Earlier this year we wrote about the final regulation consolidating most of the Federal Small Business Mentor-Protégé program under one office at the Small Business Administration. See 81 Fed. Reg. 48558 (July 25, 2016). The regulation expands the popular Mentor-Protégé program and should provide significant benefits to many more large and small companies. You can read our original post here.

One of the questions raised in comments on the draft regulation was how the SBA would cope with the expected significant increase in its workload. Accuracy and turn-around time are important elements of the SBA’s review role. In the final regulation, SBA generally addressed those concerns by promising to find new and improved ways to deliver the service. They committed to take one step at a time and scale up as needed.

It has now been five months since the final rule was published. We asked SBA Mentor-Protégé Director Holly Schick for a progress report on the transition. Director Schick says that the SBA has moved steadily if incrementally, to ramp-up the program.

Here is a summary of how SBA sees its progress:

  • The SBA’s program to meet the Mentor Protégé expansion got underway on October 1, 2016.
  • As of December 6, 2017, SBA has approved 42 Mentor-Protégé arrangements.
  • The application process is built almost entirely around self-certification.
  • Turnaround time has remained within their objective of 3 to 5 days.
  • The SBA Mentor Protégé office plans to add people and resources as needed if the turn-around time starts to slip.
  • SBA has developed an all-digital application designed to “walk you through” the application process. The all-digital application can be found at https://certify.sba.gov. The program is being continually tested for user experience so that SBA can monitor rough spots in the process and simplify the process where needed.
  • To increase efficacy of the application process, SBA requires the user (both mentors and protégés) to take a 20-minute familiarization tutorial. The tutorial addresses: the requirements the user must meet; documents that are needed to complete the process; how to analyze what exactly your business is trying to accomplish; and how to determine whether a mentor-protégé’ arrangement is will be useful. (Why us? Why now?) The tutorial can be found at the SBA Learning Center.
  • More than 1,000 people have taken the online tutorial. More than 320 people requested PDF applications.
  • Director Schick intends to increase SBA’s outreach to the business community in 2017.
  • The internet landing page for SBA’s Mentor Protégé Program provides a full rundown of legal requirements, a collection of frequently asked questions and answers, even an example draft Mentor-Protégé agreement.

SBA seems committed to creating a thoughtful and useful process. The Mentor-Protégé program has made a real difference for some small businesses that want to find their way in the complicated world of federal contracting.

So far, so good.