HUB Mentor Protégé Spotlight
Building Partnerships through the Mentor-Protégé Program
- State Agency Sponsor: University of Texas at Austin
- Mentor: Warden Construction Company
- Protégé: Patriot Electrical; Prometheus Electrical Systems
- Industry: Construction
Strength in Numbers
With more than 50,000 students on campus daily, the pace of life at the University of Texas at Austin can seem frantic. But the pace slows during semester breaks and summer sessions, which allows the university to complete construction projects.
“Our busy construction times are definitely during Christmas and summer break when the students aren’t around,” says Muriel Kruse with UT-Austin’s Project Management and Construction Services. “Those are the times that firms can get experience working with the university.”
And that experience can benefit state-certified historically underutilized businesses (HUBs) that participate in the university’s mentor/protégé program. All Texas state agencies and institutions with biennial appropriations of more than $10 million must support mentor/protégé relationships.
The mentor business normally is the larger and more established in the partnership. Mentors help protégé companies with paperwork, personnel issues and more. But in addition to logistical know-how, mentors provide job opportunities for their protégé partners.
“The way I look at it, if it weren’t for this program and my affiliation with Warden Construction, I would not have a chance to work within the University of Texas,” says Orlando Riveron, founder of Patriot Electrical, a protégé partner in the program.
Where the Jobs Are
Through UT-Austin’s program, the Austin office of Jacksonville, Florida-based Warden Construction Company serves as mentor to Patriot, as well as two other companies. In that role, Warden assists its mentors with paperwork, budgeting, invoice submission and more.
“Those [processes] can be daunting if you don’t have experience with them,” says Greg Flores, Warden’s mentor/protégé coordinator in Austin.
Warden’s contracts with the university come through UT’s Job Order Contracting (JOC) process. JOC contracts allow entities to move quickly on common construction projects through multi-year contracts, reducing paperwork and other bureaucratic hurdles.
“The benefit for Warden Construction Company is that they have [local] partners they can tap into for this fast-paced work,” says UT-Austin’s Kruse. “For the protégés, listing the experience of working with an institution of higher education is a big plus when it comes to bidding on future jobs.”
Prometheus Electrical Systems is another of Warden’s protégé partners. Founded in 2009, the three-employee firm specializes in residential and commercial electrical work. Originally a one-man operation, Prometheus worked multiple jobs at UT-Austin in summer 2011 as a direct result of its affiliation with Warden.
“The networking opportunities and making those connections is tremendous, but getting to do some work for them is the biggest benefit,” says Gary Smith, the company’s founder. “That has certainly led to us being able to add employees.” For Warden, it comes down to trust in its protégé companies — trust that they can step in adequately to complete the job, on time and within budget. That trust is earned through performance. For Warden’s protégés, it’s a huge benefit to pick up the experience, and having Flores — himself the son of a small business owner — as an ally adds to the package.
“Working as the mentor in a partnership like this is about sacrifice; it really is,” Flores says. “How can a small business get the opportunity if no one is looking for them to see how bright they are? How can they rise up and be successful? We give them the chance to get some experience, which gives them work history with a university. That makes them more enticing for bigger jobs down the road.”
Stay in and Network
Social media outlets have proven to be a surprising ally in helping to spread the word about business, says Gary Smith, founder of Prometheus Electrical Systems. Prometheus, which partners with Warden Construction Company in UT-Austin’s mentor/protégé program, uses various social media websites to gauge customer reviews and feature its work. “Being new and small, we are trying to be as visible as possible and build some reviews for future jobs,” Smith says. Angie’s List and Yelp.com have helped build the review base for the company’s reputation, while Facebook has provided a platform to which Smith can add pictures from the job site and generate discussion.
“It hasn’t cost us a dime, yet it’s helped us generate revenue,” Smith says. “If other businesses aren’t taking advantage of social networks, they’re missing out.”