HUB Mentor Protégé Spotlight
Building Partnerships through the Mentor-Protégé Program
- State Agency Sponsor: Texas Education Agency
- Mentor: Pearson
- Protégé: Farace Design Group
- Industry: Educational and assessment products
The Right Fit
Serving more than 4.7 million students in the Texas public school system, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) plays a vital role in a student’s educational career. TEA manages the textbook adoption process, the development of statewide curriculum and administers the statewide assessment programs in support of Texas students.
Working with its supporting contractors, TEA also helps develop Texas HUBs (Historically Underutilized Businesses) through its seven-year old Mentor/Protégé Program. All Texas state entities with a biennial appropriation of more than $10 million must support mentor/protégé relationships. Typically, the mentor business is larger than its protégé, and may possess skills the latter lacks. This can prove helpful in several areas, including business plans, financing, cost estimation, paperwork reduction and others.
TEA works with HUBs at various forums around the state, delivering information about mentor/protégé possibilities as well as examples of former protégé business that are now TEA prime contractors.
“It’s easier to get interested protégés, certainly, and there are a lot of firms and individuals out there hoping to capitalize on a mentor’s experience in helping them do business with the agency,” says Norma Barrera, TEA’s directors of purchasing and contracts.
The challenges of pairing mentors and protégés include business size, needs, expectations, available time and more.
“Those are all factors when it comes to putting teams together,” Barrera says. “Based on the needs of each individual firm, we do have to do some match making.”
One of TEA’s more successful matches pairs Pearson’s Texas-based educational arm with Farace Design Group. Pearson, an international giant, and Farace, established five years ago by owner Carolyn Farace, have built a working relationship that benefits both. Pearson, which handles assessment testing in Texas, employs more than 2,000 Texans, depending on the time of year. Farace design has 10 employees.
“Size really hasn’t been an issue,” says Matt Harper, Pearson’s director of program support services. “You have to build a level of trust and we’ve done that with Carolyn. Also, her willingness to commit to the relationship has been key. Without that, our partnership goes nowhere.”
Farace had worked with Pearson prior to joining them in the mentor/protégé program, assisting Pearson in designing proposals, online interactive release tests, test development and more. As a creative design company, involvement in the program has helped Farace grow her business, both in its size but also in what it does. Farace provides visual design communications and publishing services for its clients, but has added typesetting and online production over the years and, most recently copy writing, editing and proofreading.
Adding employees and skills has been an exciting process, Farace says, but just as importantly, her company’s performance has helped solidify her reputation as a business partner.
“They don’t look at me as a small company,” Farace says. “They see me as a peer to the business that they do in Texas; an extension of their company. I really appreciate that feeling.”
Risk — Work — Reward
Involvement in a mentor/protégé relationship does not automatically translate into business.
“It takes time to foster that growth,” Pearson’s Harper says. “Persistence, patience and understanding are how it all comes together.”
Mentor assistance with everything from paperwork to networking helps make the program successful for mentors and for protégé businesses. Mentor businesses often help their protégés earn contracts by introducing their work to other contractors.
“Other programs within our organization see the work of our protégés,” Harper says. “We like to take our protégés to major trade shows with us and help network for them. This helps lead them to further growth even outside of our contracts with them.”
Farace, for example, designed Pearson’s booth that is used at various trade shows, which generates comments from others in attendance and allows Pearson the opportunity to pass along Farace’s name. That type of word-of-mouth networking has helped Farace gain contracts in other states.
“The networking is invaluable,” Farace says. “I don’t have the time to network as much as I’d like to, but they keep me updated on the events that they go to and they know the types of businesses that would be good for us. It helps connect us with those opportunities.”
More information about the TEA’s Mentor/Protégé Program, including application and eligibility requirements, is available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=7038.