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David and Goliath: Understanding Mentorship Through the Department of Defense Mentor Protégé Program

posted Jan 25, 2016, 8:14 AM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated Jan 26, 2016, 7:41 AM ]

While many businesses sell what the Department of Defense is buying, the complexity of defense contracting requirements can stymie interested vendors. In fact, obtaining necessary security clearances, and understanding the agency’s unique rules and focuses encourages new vendors to work with experienced defense contractors.  So how does an interested contractor start selling to the Department of Defense? If you are a small business, have not performed a defense contract in the past year, and offer something innovative for national security the DoD’s Mentor Protégé Program (MPP) may be your solution.

The DoD MPP was developed to create a “highway” for small businesses to connect with defense agencies and experienced contractors, differing fundamentally from other agencies’ mentor protégé programs. An experienced mentor firm acts as a prime contractor and coach for a subcontracting protégé firm. The paired businesses then go through DoD monitored sessions outlining goals. Each agreement is unique and negotiated between the two entities, outlining the project, expected assistance, and how the mentor will be reimbursed for developing the small business. Examples of assistance include:

  •      Business or technical training
  •      Advance payments
  •      Noncompetitive subcontracting awards
  •      Loans
  •      Assistance with the clearance process
  •      Equipment

In an important shift from past years, there will be a strong preference to protégés offering innovative products or services to support key national security goals. Though all seven agencies that use the DoD’s Mentor Protégé program have their own strategic goals outlined annually, the Department of Defense’s priorities range from cybersecurity, to robotics, to information assurance. In addition, the protégé must be a disadvantaged small business (Tribally or NHO Owned, 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, and WOSB) or a “nontraditional defense contractor”, a firm that has not had a contract with the Department of Defense in the past year as defined in the DFARS. In addition, the protégé business must not exceed half of their NAICS code’s size standard.

If the basic nuts and bolts of the MPP sound like a fit, finding a mentor is the next step. Mentors and protégés select each other, with protégées limited to one mentor and mentors permitted to have multiple protégés. You can review the full list of approved mentors for a potential prime that would be an asset to work with, and for which you’d be a valuable team member. These businesses have at least one contact dedicated to working with small business subcontractors or potential protégés who will be able to explore the possibility of an MPP agreement.

As the Department of Defense seeks to counter ever-evolving threats, including innovative small businesses and helping them grow will be a significant component for national security. With this renewed, strategic focus and a push for a national “changing of the guard” technologically, it’s more important than ever for small businesses consider the Mentor Protégé Program.

Alexandra Eaton is the Business Development Specialist of NextWin Services. Alexandra can be reached at