Mentor-Protégé Program Builds New Partnerships

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The Green Bay Packers have been known to bring people together. Friendships, marriages and life-long connections have been forged through shared appreciation for the Green and Gold.

But for the last five years, the organization also has been linking people through different kinds of partnerships, those intended to spur economic development in the Wisconsin business community. Now beginning its sixth session, the Packers Mentor-Protégé Program matches up pairs of Wisconsin small businesses, a "mentor" company sharing its expertise, resources and guidance, with a "protégé" company.

Wednesday, Nov. 18, the program held its "meet-and-greet" to match up companies through an exercise that Anna Steinfest, President/CEO of AFF Research, the company that helps administer the program, compares to speed dating.

"These partnerships are similar to a marriage, in that the participants from each company need to work together and truly commit to it," said Steinfest. "The meet-and-greet allows these organizations to see if the chemistry is right and to communicate long-term business goals."

Sue Patterson, whose company, Big Daddy's Specialty Sausage, is aiming to set itself apart from the competition, attended the meet-and-greet event looking for a mentor to help guide her to more business growth and innovation.

"We want to learn how to run our business better," said Patterson, who began the business three years ago. "There's so much we have left to learn, and if we can get a match with someone that can help us be more successful as we learn, it would be helpful."

Patterson, who owns the business, is also a service-disabled veteran. The Packers Mentor-Protégé Program aims much of its efforts toward advancing the business goals of women-, veteran-, and minority-owned companies.

Another newcomer to the program at the meet-and-greet was Shannon Jefferson, CEO of Gibraltar Industries Inc., a Milwaukee-based commercial, residential and constructional janitorial company. Jefferson hopes the program can match her with a similar business that can help her discover options for growth.

"This will hopefully help be the catalyst for us to do some of the things that I want to do, which would be to expand," said Jefferson. "I would like to progress forward, but how do we do that?"

Steinfest urged each participant in the meet-and-greet to keep an open mind as they met potential mentors and protégés, since guidance and insight can come from anyone.

"As a small business owner, you are wearing all kinds of hats and your time is very limited," said Steinfest. "But the time you spend on the program will be rewarding. The commitment from the mentors and the protégés will maximize the potential for success."

 The new matches, which are currently being finalized, will begin working together in January.

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