Small Business Mentor-Protege Program Fuels Cooperation
The streamlined process provides advantages that go beyond partnerships.
Small businesses are underutilizing a mentor-protégé program that streamlines their access to the federal marketplace, say government officials. Known as the All Small Mentor-Protégé Program, or ASMPP, the effort provides small businesses with a new avenue into federal contracting.
Developed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the ASMPP fits a niche and fills a need that had been a gap for some time, said Lori Gillen, ASMPP director at the SBA. Sandi Clifford, ASMPP deputy director, explained at an AFCEA Small Business Committee presentation that it was modeled and expands on the SBA’s 8(a) mentor-protégé program by opening doors for non-8(a) firms under the umbrella of a single governmentwide program for all small businesses. It does not involve the Defense Department, which has its own mentor-protégé program, nor the Federal Aviation Administration, as neither comes under the purview of the Small Business Act.
“It helps streamline access for small firms to get into the federal marketplace; it helps enhance business capabilities and growth potential through mentoring with large—or other small experienced—federal contractors; it helps increase the protégé firm’s wealth and create jobs through government contracts; and it also helps large mentor firms develop and increase their supply chain through building capable small business contractors,” Clifford declared.
Its use by federal agencies also helps maintain program requirements in the small business set-aside realm, Clifford noted. The ASMPP helps those agencies meet their own small-business contracting goals.
In the ASMPP, both the mentor and the protégé must be for-profit firms. Protégé firms are limited to two mentor-protégé relationships in the lifetime of their business. A mentor is limited to three such relationships at any one time, but has no lifetime cap. If a joint venture between two firms is formed, it is good for up to three contract awards in two years. The protégé manages the joint venture and must do at least 40 percent of the work. An experienced small business can be a mentor or a protégé, Clifford said.
The smaller firm fills out the application and obtains the certification at the program’s portal. If a company has a system for award management (SAM) profile, it has the beginning of a profile in the ASMPP certification process. All applicants must be registered in the SAM, and each must have a mentor lined up.
The program does not help bring mentors and protégés together. They must establish relationships on their own. “We’re not a matchmaking program,” Clifford declared.
She urged companies to select their mentors properly, in particular avoiding companies that may not be allies if issues arise. “Be careful when you choose your mentor,” she stated. “There’s friendships, and then there’s business. Make sure [the mentor] is one that you have similar philosophies with.”
Mentors can do more for a protégé than simply help it obtain a contract. Possibilities include business development, expanded capacity to bid independently, a mentor awarding subcontracts to a protégé and a joint venture formed as a small business to bid on set-asides.
One ASMPP element that is underused is its international trade education. A small business that wants to expand overseas can receive assistance from its mentor, Clifford explained.
The program has been growing in popularity, but it still has a lot of room for more participants. “If you’re a small business and you play in this space, lots of your competitors are participating in this program,” Clifford offered. “I would say, go out and get yourself one, because your next-door neighbors are participating.”
Gillen added that, as more people become aware of the program and recognize how to use it, the SBA is seeing an increase in participation. The growth in awareness applies to participating federal agencies as well, she said.
Companies seeking to access the ASMPP should begin at www.sba.gov/allsmallmpp. Companies can ask questions at email@example.com. Firms can apply for the program online at the SBA’s certification portal, certify.sba.gov.