District Joins with City, Metro, Port of Houston to Foster Mentor-Protégé Relationships

Prospective mentors and protégés exchange information at an information session last Thursday at Metro downtown.

HISD is kicking off a program to help small and minority-owned businesses develop the skills needed to compete for government contracts as part of an Interagency Mentor-Protégé Program sponsored with the City of Houston, Metro, and the Port of Houston Authority.

“Programs like this are going to help you take advantage of all the opportunities,” said Bernard Willingham, HISD’s team lead for Supplier Diversity, at an event last week to help introduce the initiative.

More than 30 people turned out at Metro last Thursday to learn more about the mentor-protégé program, which officially began accepting applications this week. To qualify, a prospective protégé must be certified by the City of Houston or Metro as one of the following: a small, women-owned, veteran-owned, minority-owned or disadvantaged business. It also must hold a current registration from the Port of Houston or HISD.

See more photos from the mentor-protégé event

The program comes amid HISD’s ongoing work with the 2012 bond program, worth $1.89 billion. The district is planning to build or renovate 40 schools across the district and is looking to use qualified Houston companies and vendors to help do the work.

By partnering with the City of Houston, Metro and the Port of Houston Authority, the district is hoping to increase financial capacity and teaming opportunities for eligible businesses.

“There’s a lot of construction work out there,” said Ruben Mercado, Business Manager of the Houston chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, which came out in support of the program.  “At the end of the day, my goal is to help you get a contract.”

Dell Trahan is hoping the program will set her up with a mentor who can share his or her experience, especially with the public procurement process. Her company, T&K’s Mobile Detailing and Pressure Washing, specializes in cleaning services.

“I want to learn what I’m doing wrong, what I’m doing right and what I need to do to take my business to the next level,” she said.

So far, some five mentors have been recruited to take on mentors, with more expected to sign on in the coming weeks. Rice & Gardner is an engineering firm that has done much work with HISD over the years. Rudy Alvarez, the operations manager, said the company signed on to be a mentor so it could help other firms.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “We’ve had a long history with HISD.”

To take part in the program, protégés are being asked to fill out an online application at http://www.hisdtracker.com/dnn/gps/home.aspx through May 3. Interviews will be held the week of May 13. Qualifying firms will be notified of their acceptance by May 28. The program is expected to start on June 4 and last about six months.

Willingham said participants will work with their mentors on improving business plans and can expect to learn helpful strategies around pricing their products and the legal and financial requirements for submitting proposals or qualifications.

“This program has something for everyone,” he said.