University ‘Graduates’ First Class of Diverse Small Business Owners
Mentorship program aimed at promoting competitiveness
COLUMBIA, Mo. – As part of its efforts to grow small businesses across the state, two years ago the University of Missouri System launched the Advocacy-Mentoring Program for firms owned by women and minorities. The first graduating class of these organizations and their mentors were honored June 29, 2011.
As four businesses complete the two-year program today, five new firms will take their place.
The University of Missouri System’s Advocacy-Mentoring Program has several goals, including increasing the number of competitive minority- and women-owned firms that wish to do business with one of the University of Missouri’s four campuses.
Women- or minority-owned businesses are defined as business entities in which 51 percent of the ownership interest, stock or otherwise, is minority or woman owned. The determination of minority- or women-owned business status depends solely on ownership and operation, and is not related to the employment of minorities or women.
“The advice I received from my mentors was invaluable,” said graduate Floyd Simms, founder and president of the small contracting company Simms Building Group in St. Louis. “I feel like this program really fast-tracked my ability to be competitive and work with the university.”
The first mentor class was comprised of four firms — City Design Group and Simms Building Group of St. Louis and OBI Consulting Engineers and Pendulum Studio of Kansas City. Each business was part of a triad that included a mentor from a large firm and a university team leader from one of the University of Missouri’s four campuses.
Simms, a 1991 engineering graduate from the University of Missouri-Columbia, was mentored by John Sutherland, vice president of River City Construction in Ashland, and John Neal, associate director of Campus Facilities and Construction at MU.
Simms, like the others who participated, also was helped by MBA students through a consulting class taught by Gregg Martin, associate professor of management at MU’s Trulaske College of Business.
“We helped these businesses to understand where they stand relative to their competition in terms of promotions, pricing, services offered and service area,” Martin said. “This was an excellent opportunity for our students to gain experience working with real businesses, to apply academic theory into practice.”
The Mentoring-Advocacy Program was launched at the recommendation of the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprises Advisory Council, a volunteer group convened in 2007 to brainstorm ideas to increase the proportion of businesses owned by women and minorities that work with the university. That group, including departing and new members, also will be honored today.
The UM System has seen some growth in the ability of these businesses to compete, according to Jacqueline Hall Kelly, director of Minority Business Development with the UM System.
“The UM System has increased procurement, architecture and engineering and construction awards to minority and women-owned businesses to more than 9 percent, or to about $42.5 million,” Kelly said. “Although we have no mandates, each campus aims for at least a 10 percent participation rate with businesses owned by women and minorities. Businesses that are awarded university contracts are also encouraged to work with minority and women-owned subcontractors.”
Kelly added that the spirit of the participation goal is that the diversity among contractors selected by the university should reflect the diversity of the system’s students, staff and the state of Missouri.
“This is not about freebies. This is about helping more of these businesses to be in a better position to learn about these projects and compete,” Kelly said. “This program aims to increase the potential supply of firms that can more effectively bid on university contracts while at the same time reinforcing our university’s values of respect and diversity and furthering our mission to advance Missouri’s economy.”
The Advocacy-Mentoring Program helps businesses grow and become more competitive through strengthening their core business competencies; networking; and instructing them how to do business with the University of Missouri.
In addition to the mentoring program, the university has simplified the request-for-bid notification system, which is available to all businesses. Individuals who want to know about business needs at the four campuses can now sign up for notifications through email. The campuses also have begun marketing presentations with architects and engineers interested in university work who have not previously been hired or interviewed by the university.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to bring some of these small firms into the fold,” said Kelly, noting that small businesses based in Missouri make tremendous contributions to the local economy. “This is part of our commitment to growing Missouri’s economy and being good citizens.”
The Advocacy-Mentoring Program is just one example of the University of Missouri’s commitment to helping entrepreneurs and businesses grow, thereby improving the state’s economy. Through University of Missouri Extension, small businesses can participate in free or low-cost assistance through Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers. One of the goals of these centers is to prepare businesses to compete for government contracting jobs. Additionally, the University of Missouri has a statewide network of 10 research parks and business incubators, designed to help to faculty, entrepreneurs and businesses collaborate to move innovative research to the marketplace.
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