For small businesses, entering the federal government marketplace can be a daunting proposition. All that red tape!  All those acronyms!  How can a new entrant hope to  succeed?

Steven J. Koprince, Koprince Law LLC
Steven J. Koprince is the Managing Partner of Koprince Law LLC

Well, what if you had a larger, more experienced contractor to help guide the way – and perhaps back your proposals?

That’s the intent behind the SBA’s new “All Small” mentor-protégé program. The program allows small businesses to pair with larger mentors. While the primary focus of the program is business development, there are powerful competitive benefits, too.

Who can participate?

They don’t call it the “All Small” Mentor-Protégé Program for nothing. Any company can be a protégé so long as it qualifies as a small business in its primary line of business – or even in a secondary line of business in which it has previously done work.

Almost any for-profit business can be a mentor, so long as the mentor has the resources, capabilities and interest to assist the protégé. In practice, most mentors are officially classified as large businesses by the SBA.

Many well-known large businesses are acting as mentors. A recent SBA list of mentors included Accenture Federal Services, Booz Allen Hamilton, Raytheon Company and other household names.

Why participate?

For a protégé, the answer is obvious: the protégé gets stuff. (No, that’s not official legal terminology). But joking aside, the protégé receives business development assistance tailored to its own individual needs.

Common assistance includes things like loan and bond guarantees, assistance with back-office processes, such as accounting support, education, marketing assistance, subcontracts and much more – including guiding new entrants through that red tape. A savvy protégé ensures that the mentor-protégé agreement helps the protégé reach the next stages in its development faster and easier than otherwise would be the case.

But why the heck would a large company want to provide all of this (aside from the warm fuzzies of helping a small company develop)? In a word: access.

Small businesses have access to segments of the federal marketplace that large businesses cannot directly access themselves. Federal contracts are often reserved for small businesses or for socioeconomic subcategories of small businesses, such as woman-owned or veteran-owned companies.

When the SBA approves a mentor-protégé agreement, the mentor can have a closer working relationship with the protégé than might otherwise be possible under the SBA’s affiliation rules. And the mentor and protégé are allowed to form joint ventures to compete as a prime contract team for any prime contract or subcontract for which the protégé qualifies – even if the mentor itself ordinarily would be too large to compete.

With around $100 billion in prime contracts awarded to small businesses annually, it’s little wonder that large firms are interested in ways to access those opportunities.

The bottom line: done right, a mentor-protégé agreement is a win-win.

How to participate?

To learn more about the SBA’s All Small Mentor-Protégé Program and review a sample application, go to the SBA’s website: