A growing number of mentor-protégé programs, such as Cafe Commerce’s Break Fast and Launch, are emerging across San Antonio where established business owners share their professional experiences with aspiring entrepreneurs to improve their chances for success.
The San Antonio Economic Development Department (EDD) has been collaborating with Alamo Colleges on the Business Empowerment, or BE San Antonio program, which focuses on aiding small, minority and women-owned businesses.
BE San Antonio has two tracks. One track pairs a veteran business and its owners as a mentor with an up-and-coming enterprise as the protégé. The mentor and protégé meet on a monthly basis over a two-year period, giving the establish business owner the opportunity to advise and guide the start-up.
The second BE San Antonio track consists of bonding assistance through which the same small businesses build or repair their credit to increase their bonding capacity, thanks to the local non-profit LiftFund. Twenty-nine local businesses have graduated from the 10th and latest session of the BE program.
To date, the BE San Antonio program has attracted more than 150 applicants and graduated more than 90 startup business owners that successfully completed both tracks. Each new graduate was formally recognized at an award luncheon on Wednesday held at the San Antonio International Center.
The City’s commitment to small business development dates back more than 20 years, when City Council first adopted the small business economic development advocacy ordinance, often referred to as the Small Business Economic Development Advocacy Program (SBEDA).
That ordinance and program was revised in 2010 by the Council and the EDD was tasked with creating a bonding assistance and mentor-protégé program to help build the capacity of businesses interested in city contracts.
The Council approved the collaborative program in 2011 as a pilot small business boot camp project, which marked the first phase of a business empowerment plan involving the EDD, Alamo Colleges and the South Central Texas Regional Certification Agency (SCTRCA). The two tracks represents the second phase of the business empowerment plan.
Established business owners and executives interested in serving as mentors can contact the BE San Antonio program office to get involved. Program representatives say being a mentor promotes local economic growth and social responsibility. The program strives to pair a mentoring established business that is similar to a protégé business, i.e. the pairing of engineering consulting firms.
Program Manager Janice Wehrman told the luncheon audience that a program such as Business Empowerment San Antonio does just that — empower local aspiring entrepreneurs.
“With a little traction, we’ve gotten these businesses not only to represent data and statistics, but husbands and wives who have given up time with family to run their businesses from their dining or living room,” said Wehrman, who also is occupational programs coordinator for Alamo Colleges. “You give up a lot to be a small business owner.”
Wehrman later told the Rivard Report that all of the small businesses involved in the program begin with a limited revenue stream. Some startup owners have a side job while trying to get their venture off the ground.
“But generally speaking by the time they’ve finished the program, they’ve at least doubled or tripled their revenue, some exponentially more than that. It just depends on the specialty they’re in or the opportunity they’ve had to compete for contracts,” she added.
Wehrman told the luncheon audience the revenue that these new fledgling businesses produce means more money in the community and more job growth.
“These firms have retailed or added employees, which also represents growth,” she said. “This program continues to grow. It doesn’t really stop.”
According to Wehrman, there is follow-through at BE San Antonio. The program provides each graduating business with an exit interview and then surveys the same business one year later to see how they are doing.
Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) also spoke, saying the City has often used its purchasing power to recognize and support small, minority and women-owned businesses.
“I think that has allowed the City to play a significant role in the lives of literally a host of small businesses in this community,” Krier added.
Krier said small businesses help make San Antonio an attractive place to work, live and play. About 80 percent of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce members are companies with 50 or fewer employees.
“You are the backbone of the city’s business community. You are the backbone of the city’s business past, present and the backbone of the city’s business future,” Krier added.
Copeland Contracting, a general contracting firm with 15 employees, is one of the newest graduates from the BE San Antonio program. Company representative Tia Statam said Copeland wants to establish its name and pursue work with the City. Joeris General Contractors served as Copeland’s mentor.
“We thought this program not only would help us grow our business, but give us insight on what bigger companies are doing,” she said. “(Joeris) was very good, very attentive and gave us a lot of information we were able to utilize.”
*Top image: Business Empowerment (BE) San Antonio graduate protege Pamela Carpenter of Seventh Generations Design and mentor Paul Molina of Molina Architects (center) pose with their award in a luncheon at the San Antonio International Center with City Economic Development Director Rene Dominguez (left) and council members Joe Krier (D9) and Roberto Treviño (D1). Photo by Edmond Ortiz.