Inside the early success of GSA's mentor-protégé program

GSA embraces role of marriage counselor to connect small firms with experienced players

Small businesses who want to learn about the world of federal contracting have their advocate.

Tony Eiland leads what he refers to as a "meat-and-potatoes" program at the General Services Administration that helps connect small companies with more experienced ones. The program’s objective is motivating larger companies to lend their knowledge to smaller, less experienced businesses.


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GSA’s Mentor-Protégé program, which is less than two years old, is growing much faster than Eiland had planned. He had a goal of managing 75 agreements between mentors and protégés by the end of 2011. By mid-April, he was managing 74 agreements.

Despite the growth, it’s still not a program that gets a lot of attention.

“People don’t know about it because it’s not flashy,” Eiland said.

But GSA Administrator Martha Johnson gave Eiland’s program some publicity in April. She awarded the Administrator’s Award for Mentorship Excellence to Catapult Technology and its protégé, Dexisive Inc.

“By linking companies that have established experience with government contracting to businesses that are new to the field or haven’t yet gotten to the next step, GSA is encouraging and motivating small business growth,” Johnson said in a speech at the event on April 22.

Catapult Technology, a service-disabled veteran-owned business, was recognized for mentoring Dexisive, a woman-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned small business. Catapult Technology provides IT and management consulting services. Dexisive designs and deploys technology solutions to augment IT abilities and services.

John Scarcella, senior vice president of enterprise systems at Catapult and liaison to Dexisive, said the mentoring is a key to developing partners.

“As a veteran-owned business, being a part of the GSA Mentor-Protégé program is an integral part of Catapult’s sourcing plans as we help small businesses with assistance and knowledge across a broad range of business requirements so that they can effectively compete,” Scarcella said.

To get involved in the program, a protégé must be a small business, as the Federal Acquisition Regulation defines it, or any variety of the government-recognized types of small businesses, such as one owned by a service-disabled veteran.

On the other side, a mentor can be a prime contractor with an approved subcontracting plan.

However, mentors don’t necessarily have to be a big business. A small business that is a prime contractor can help protégés learn how to perform as contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers.

Eiland said the two types of mentors have their value.

The largest companies can help with a breadth of information and resources, particularly if senior executives take an interesting in helping develop a potential supplier or future business partner. Eiland said a larger company can free up resources in its own office by handing off work to a trusted partner that it has mentored for several years.

At the same time, Eiland added that small businesses, or companies that recently outgrew the small-businesses size standard, such as Catapult Technology, may offer some different but relevant insights into small-business contracting world. They may know the latest trends in the field or even gone through the same troubles of growing a business in the federal marketplace compared to the large company that has not dealt closely with those challenges.

“This is whatever you want it to be,” he said about the opportunities.

While Eiland explained that he is no marriage counselor, these agreements are “business marriages,” and he talks with companies so they know what they’re getting into when joining the program. They need to think through their reasons for joining the program, whether it’s guiding a small business toward growth or finding a subcontractor.

“This is chess, where you have to think three steps ahead,” Eiland said. “You can’t play checkers.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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