Mentor-Protégé Program scales minority & women owned firms to success

Published on October 19, 2021

DENVER – Denver Economic Development & Opportunity (DEDO) is pleased to announce the outstanding results of the Citywide Mentor-Protégé Program, a business development initiative that helps expand the capacity of minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs). The program, led by DEDO’s Division of Small Business Opportunity (DSBO) pairs MWBEs with larger, more established firms that can help the small business leaders develop the skills necessary in scaling their businesses to success, including winning contracting opportunities with the City and County of Denver. 

The Citywide Mentor-Protégé Pilot Program was designed to encourage long-term business relationships between established prime contractors, MWBE firms, and city agencies. Through the program, mentors can enhance the business management and technical capabilities of the protégé; whereby increasing the potential of the protégé to be utilized on city contracts. Mentors and Protégés must enter the program jointly and are expected to establish a mutually agreed upon development plan for the one-year period. Teams participating in the program also commit to designating both time and resources to successfully achieve program goals. 

“The Mentor-Protégé Program ensures small, disadvantaged businesses have access to large city contracts by removing barriers to the skillsets they need to access them,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock, “Denver Economic Development and Opportunity has also gained valuable insights through fostering these partnerships, and that will help us to better support these businesses to grow and thrive.” 

The program is helping address some of the challenges faced by small firms as they pursue city contracting opportunities and is driven by the overarching mission of encouraging the city’s utilization of certified firms on city-managed construction and professional services projects.  The program also addresses the procurement of goods and services purchased by the city. 

One of the biggest success stories coming out of the pilot program is Select Building Group with subsidiary Four Star Drywall, which was matched with PCL Construction, a global construction company with headquarters in Denver. The partnership resulted in the three companies collaborating on a response to Denver’s RFP (Request for Proposals) on the upcoming 16th Street Mall reconstruction project. The PCL proposal was awarded the 16th Street Mall reconstruction project (design build). 

In addition, Select Building Group gained access to over 15 new clients in the 18-month period and was also awarded the Poudre Valley Hospital Expansion Project. All accomplishments, according to Select Building Group, would not have happened without the relationships, and more importantly, lifetime friendships, that were formed during their mentorship from PCL Construction. 

“This (Citywide Mentor-Protégé) program made my company so successful in a year and a half. It would have taken several years to accomplish the access and relationships we made through PCL,” says Jose Amaya, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Select Building Group Commercial. “The 16th Street Mall renovation is an iconic project that I feel proud to be a part of. This is going to help all the businesses around the 16th Street Mall, and it is meaningful for me to bring my family from other countries and visit. This was a win-win-win for the city, for our mentor, and for us.” 

Ryan Schmidt, Denver district manager for PCL Construction, says he was thrilled with the outcome of the program. “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a core pillar at PCL. We firmly believe elevating a diverse group of business owners and workers within the construction industry will make us stronger together, and we share in the City and County of Denver’s commitment to continuing to create opportunity for MWBE’s,” Schmidt said. 

The City has taken feedback from many of the small firm participants and has immediately applied the tactics to make it easier to do business with Denver. For a couple of teams, understanding the city’s procurement process proved quite challenging, yet through interaction with agency staff who provided insight and guidance, it became less of a barrier. 

Four city agencies committed to offering educational and networking opportunities for selected Mentor-Protégé teams throughout the duration of the one-year period. As part of the application process, each mentor-protégé team selected one city agency from which they wanted to receive technical assistance. Upon acceptance into the program, each team was assigned an Agency Liaison who served as the point of contact to ensure the Mentor-Protégé team had access to appropriate personnel and training courses offered from the selected department. Participating city agencies were: 

  • Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI)
  • Parks & Recreation (DPR)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Mayor's Office of the National Western Center (NWC)

2020/2021 Mentor-Protégé Teams include: 

  • Hensel Phelps (mentor), Sky Blue Builders (protégé) 
  • Sky Blue Builders (mentor) and True Crew Insulation (protégé) 
  • ECI Site Management (mentor) and Ascend Landscaping (protégé) 
  • Triunity Inc. (mentor) and HG Consult (protégé) 
  • PCL Construction (mentor) and Four Star Drywall and Select Building Group (protégé) 
  • Swinerton (mentor) & Imperial Welding (protégé) 

“We started this pilot pre-pandemic and we were hopeful, but still uncertain what the outcome would be even in the best of economic times. As we entered the worst recession our generation has even seen, it was inspiring to watch as effective working relationships were built between leaders of established as well as emerging MWBE firms in order for the latter to benefit from the knowledge, experience, and social capital of the established firms,” said DSBO Director Adrina Gibson, “Our intent is to build long-term, sustainable inter-company relationships within the business community of metro Denver, and I am proud to say this cohort has done that and I commend them for doing so.” 

While the city created the program out of a pursuit of equity, many other benefits were realized throughout the 18-month process. The initial pilot proved that MWBEs can learn from the Mentor-Protégé teams and gained additional educational and networking opportunities directly from participating city agencies. 

“This program’s success came after extensive program development process that involved research on national and local programs including CDOT’s Mentor Protégé Program and through conducting focus groups with large and small firms,” said Program Manager, Gloria Owusu. “The community response was incredible, and we received a high number of very impressive and well thought out applications.” 

The city is now accepting applications for the 2021/2022 cohort. Those interested in participating, or learning more can visit this landing page. An information session is scheduled for November 10, 2021 at 9:00 a.m.-10:15 a.m. and all interested parties are invited to attend. 

About Denve Economic Development & Opportunity
Denver Economic Development & Opportunity is leading an inclusive and innovative economy for all Denver residents, including local and global business development, workforce development programs, and  stabilization efforts in Denver’s diverse neighborhoods. Learn more at