HISD Helps Small Businesses Through Mentor-Protégé Program

Ramon Herrera, principal at Midtown Engineers, says he hopes joining the IMPP as a protégé will help him become a better businessman.

Small business owners learned the components of a “perfect handshake” and how to smile like a politician at the Interagency Mentor-Protégé Program’s first session yesterday at METRO headquarters.

Through HISD’s partnership with the City of Houston, METRO and Port of Houston Authority, the IMPP was designed to create long-term relationships between mentors and protégés, through professional guidance and business support and development.

“It is our hope that this program will enhance the capability of (small businesses) so that they can take on a larger role with (HISD),” HISD Supplier Diversity Team Lead Bernard Willingham said.

Willingham said the program is encouraging more businesses to work with HISD, especially as the district begins its planning and design phase of the recently passed $1.89 billion 2012 bond program. The program will replace or build 40 schools across the city. Many RFPs for contracts under the bond program require companies to participate in some type of mentor-protégé program.

“The district is making it very clear that we want large firms and small businesses to work together,” Willingham said.

During the program, mentors and protégés will create and implement a business development plan based on the team’s analysis of the protégé’s skill set. Additional program objectives include topics such as “Creating a Favorable First Impression When Presenting Your Small Business,” “Creating Professional Business Presentations That Get Results,” and “Understanding Your Business Financial Model.”

“Large companies have a tremendous amount of business acumen and expertise,” Willingham said. “Being in the program gives the protégé not only access to what will become their perspective mentor, but it also gives them access to all the mentors involved.”

Ramon Herrera didn’t need any convincing about the program’s networking opportunities. As principal at Midtown Engineers, Herrera said he hopes joining the program as a protégé will help him become a better businessman.

“Everybody here has good business skills,” Herrera said, “But some of us need a bit of training to really get an edge on the competitor.”

Herrera already knows he wants to use his mentor’s expertise to help develop a stronger mission and vision for Midtown Engineers. “That’s important if you want to go to the next level,” he said.

Unlike Herrera, when Lana Coble started her career in construction nearly 40 years ago, she didn’t have a mentor to help guide her. Now as an IMPP mentor and HUB Manager at Tellepsen Builders, Coble said she’s at the point in her career where she wants to give small businesses something she didn’t have – guidance and the opportunity to succeed.

“The city of Houston is progressive and dynamic and anything we can do to help build a stronger community, I’m all about,” Coble said.

Coble said many new M/WBE firms don’t know how to communicate with key officials within their industry. It is her goal to help small businesses develop relationships to be more successful.

Other companies participating in the program as mentors include Graebel Houston Movers, Inc., Freese and Nichols, Inc. and HDR Engineering. Additional protégés include The Urban Circle, Joch Enterprises, LLC. and Iconic Consulting Group, Inc. A complete list of participating businesses can be viewed at http://www.hisdtracker.com/dnn/gps/Home.aspx.

Track I of the program began June 11 and will be complete Oct. 17. Track II will begin shortly following and complete in May 2014. The district hopes to have two new groups of mentors and protégés per year.