Packers program matches small businesses, mentors

Posted on Nov 29, 2020 :: Commentary
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

I sometimes think some people forget just how special the Green Bay Packers are. No, it’s not their 13 world championships or their four Super Bowl wins, but rather it’s their deep connection to the community.

As a team owned by the community, you may think of course the Packers are connected to the area, but I am talking more about their commitment to the local business community. As Jessica Thiel’s cover story this month on TitletownTech shows, the Packers made a big-time investment along with Microsoft to help grow and scale entrepreneurs and startups.

But that’s not the only way the Packers reach out to the business community and assist small businesses. The Packers Mentor-Protégé Program provides mentoring to growing companies by connecting them with a business mentor and resources to help them grow and thrive.

The program was designed in part to match minority-, veteran- or women-owned businesses with experienced mentor companies, with such businesses making up 87 percent of the participating protégé businesses.

Anna Steinfest, program administrator, says in the program’s first nine years, more than 250 full- and part-time jobs have been created across 76 protégé companies. Additionally, participants have increased their annual revenue by a combined $62.4 million and acquired more than 4,600 clients.

Now in its 10th year, Steinfest says the program played a pivotal role in 2020 as it helped several small businesses change focus during the pandemic and resulting economic fallout.

Green Bay-based Reynolds Packaging is an example of one protégé that benefited from the program during all the challenges that 2020 threw at it. The company, which typically manufactures food product and sustainable/compostable packaging, was poised for growth in 2020 with a new building and equipment until the pandemic hit. In just a few weeks, Reynolds lost more than 35 percent of its core business.

The business owners, Lisa and Kelly Reynolds, turned to the company’s mentor with the Packers Mentor-Protégé Program and other local business and innovation organizations for guidance in pivoting to begin making face masks and mask filters that were distributed directly to area organizations and businesses that needed them.

“The resources I could access through the program and the network of other businesses who were also going through the same rollercoaster that we were provided an incredible support system,” says Lisa Reynolds. “As entrepreneurs, we still need to put our foot forward, but it gives us more opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise had and resources we wouldn’t have had exposure to.”

The Reynolds’ experience is only one example of how the mentors and protégés work together, Steinfest says. “We’ve had so many mentors come back and help another business the next year. It’s just something they really find enjoyment in and see how it enhances their leadership skills,” she says.

Steinfest is looking for mentors and protégés for 2021 and hoping that next year is a little more predictable.

“The Packers’ brand draws a lot of interest to the program, but the organization and (president) Mark Murphy are devoted to it,” she says. “They understand the value of having this type of program in the community and that strong businesses make for a stronger community.”