Skip to main content

University ‘graduates’ diverse small business owners

Mentorship program aimed at promoting competitiveness

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Five Missouri firms and their mentors were recognized today for their work in advancing Missouri’s entrepreneurial fire with the University of Missouri System’s Advocacy-Mentoring Program.

The 2012 Torch Awards marks the completion of an 18-month mentorship for this class. The mentoring relationship is meant to increase 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 at least 51 percent of the ownership interest, stock or otherwise, is minority or woman owned.

“ABR’s participation in University of Missouri’s Advocacy-Mentoring program has been very beneficial to my gaining business acumen and to ABR’s further development of core fundamentals,” said Kayla L. Dennis, president of Ability Building and Restoration LLC (ABR), a 10-year-old specialty carpentry subcontractor in St. Louis. “We’ve gained new business relationships and resources.  Our participation has provided opportunities to learn how like companies strategize and operate, and ABR has gained a broader perspective regarding partnerships, challenges and successes. It’s been a very informative process.”

Ability Building and Restoration is part of the second graduating class of UM’s Advocacy-Mentoring program. Fellow 2012 graduates include Lackey Sheet Metal of St. Louis; Alpha Energy & Electric of Kansas City; EMED Medical of St. Louis; and TMN Staffing of St. Louis. Each business was paired with a mentor from a large firm, and three of the participants also worked with a team leader from one of the University of Missouri’s four campuses.

Greg Silkman, manager of Facilities Planning & Construction at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, volunteered to participate in the program as a university team leader and was paired with a young company in Kansas City called Alpha Energy & Electric.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for these businesses, but it’s also a chance for people like me to learn from these young entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s a mentorship relationship that goes both ways.”

He said Alpha’s leadership team impressed him with their willingness to listen and try new approaches.

“When you have a company that has applied to this program, that is saying, ‘I want to do good work, and I’m willing to put forth the effort to see how I can become better,’” he said. “That’s certainly been the case here.”

The Advocacy-Mentoring Program was launched at the recommendation of the university’s Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Advisory Council, a volunteer group convened in 2008 to brainstorm ideas to increase the proportion of businesses owned by minorities and women that work with the university.

The UM System has seen growth in the ability of these businesses to compete, said Jacqueline Hall Kelly, PhD, director of Minority Business Development with the UM System.

“We have seen increases in the percentage of minority- and women-owned businesses in nearly every area we measure,” Kelly said. “For example, in the last fiscal year, 17 percent of our architecture and engineering business went to minority-owned firms — double the portion we had seen in the previous four years.”

Kelly added that the program is guided by the principle that the university’s contractors should reflect the diversity of the system’s students, staff and the state of Missouri.

“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,” Kelly said.

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.

“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 system’s commitment to helping 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.  Additionally, the University of Missouri has a statewide network of 10 research parks and business incubators, designed to help faculty, entrepreneurs and businesses collaborate to move innovative research to the marketplace.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  See attached for a list of those honored at today’s event.]

Reviewed 2012-11-30