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Firms Share Wealth With Small Businesses in DoD-Sponsored Program

Big fish don’t spend all of their time gobbling up the small fry. Sometimes, they help balance the scales, sharing territory that benefits them both.

One vehicle for this has been the Department of Defense Mentor-Prot & #233;g & #233; Program launched in 1991. It teams established companies with small businesses that have had a tougher time securing their share of lucrative prime contracts and subcontracting work.

Among the small businesses are woman-, minority- or service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses; those that employ the severely disabled; or what is called “a historically underutilized business zone.”

The impetus for the program came from defense contractors, bemoaning the scarcity of reliable suppliers to help fill orders. As a solution to this dilemma, legislation was passed in 1990 to establish the DoD Pilot Mentor-Prot & #233;g & #233; Program, spearheaded by then-U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, and implemented by then-Defense Secretary William Perry.

Since inception, 1,000 mentor-prot & #233;g & #233; agreements have been forged, with 152 current collaborations in 40 states, according to Linda Oliver, acting director of the DoD’s Office of Small Business Programs.

Eighteen San Diego companies have been , or are currently , involved in the program. Among the active teams are Epsilon Systems Solutions Inc., and Geodetics Inc., with mentor Lockheed Martin MS2’s Undersea Systems; Hi-Tech Electronic Manufacturing Inc., with Northrop Grumman; Vector Planning & Services Inc. and Sullivan Consulting Group, with Science Applications International Corp.; and Richard Brady & Associates, with Denver-based CH2M Hill Inc.

The partnerships , which run three years, with extensions sometimes authorized , have delivered a variety of products and services, including environmental remediation, engineering, information technology, manufacturing, telecommunications, robotics and health care.

Mentor companies have the option of applying for reimbursement for certain authorized expenditures, or take credits to satisfy federal requirement involving small business subcontractors.

“Many mentors are willing to be mentors, and not have all of their expenses reimbursed,” said Oliver. “They need solid suppliers and this is a source of solid suppliers.”

While prot & #233;g & #233;s get no direct money in the program, they acquire a wealth of resources, according to Oliver. Mentors also can help prot & #233;g & #233;s develop unique technologies, meet certification requirements in order to market their wares, expand or diversify their product lines to stay competitive, and learn how to become preferred suppliers.

Each year, for the past three fiscal years, the DoD has awarded $12 billion in contracts to small disadvantaged businesses, of which prot & #233;g & #233; graduates received more than 13 percent, said Oliver , three times higher than non-graduates.

Also, each year, for the past three years, prot & #233;g & #233; graduates have received 1 percent of prime contract awards given to small businesses, four times larger than the average award.

“The bottom line is, that the mentor-prot & #233;g & #233; program is a path toward success for the mentor, prot & #233;g & #233; and, ultimately, the Department of Defense,” said Oliver.

Nowadays, she said, the DoD is putting emphasis on such booming 21st century innovations as robotics, which involves the design and development of robots.

Of the nine current mentor-prot & #233;g & #233; agreements devoted to robotic technologies, three are located in San Diego , Geodetics, Epsilon Systems Solutions, and Sullivan Consulting Group, according to Oliver.

“Small businesses, we believe, are particularly innovative,” she said. “That is what the DoD most needs. Our big primes have a lot of feel of where the DoD is going, and they are trying to anticipate what the next DoD needs will be , innovative, with a big emphasis on technology.”

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