ABSI and AVIAN Formalize Mentor-Protégé Relationship

By absiaero

Kevin Switick and Chris Sacco have a lot in common, and when they met, those commonalities forged the core of what would become a long-standing friendship. Now, that relationship continues to evolve as their two companies formalized a Mentor-Protégé relationship through the Small Business Administration (SBA) this summer. 


“We met at a bar,” Kevin said, laughing during a Zoom meeting between the two men. Chris took a minute longer to reflect, and then reminded Kevin that it was in 2011 and that the reason they were both there was because a member of Kevin’s company, AVIAN, was playing in a band at the bar. A mutual friend who worked for AVIAN brought Chris along. From there, they struck up a conversation and a friendship that’s lasted a decade.


Over the years they’ve met for coffee or drinks, and moved from lamenting the difficulties of their leadership positions with the government and their time in the service into discussing the finer points of building a business in the defense contracting environment around Patuxent River, Maryland. 


Chris credits Kevin with giving him the final shove into starting his company, ABSI Aerospace & Defense. “I kept hedging, telling Kevin I was worried about the risks. And he told me that there was no risk. That the worst thing that could happen was that I’d have to go back out and get a job. I remember that day, and that’s what did it. That’s when I decided to do it.” 


When asked what the benefit of formalizing their relationship through the SBA was, the men agreed. Both companies benefit from the arrangement.


For AVIAN, about to cross the threshold from small business into the middle markets, the partnership opens the door to allow the company to continue to compete for contracts with small business set-asides. For ABSI, the relationship offers the opportunity to pursue work as a prime, something that isn’t always possible at its current size.


From a customer’s perspective, a Mentor Protégé agreement offers the best of both worlds. Customers can receive the personalized and passionate attention offered by a small business while enjoying the deep bench of expertise and resources offered by a larger company. 


The decision to align, according to the friends, had a lot to do with company cultures. “Over the years as I got to know Kevin,” Chris said, “I began to understand what AVIAN’s culture is about, what kinds of things are important to them, and how they conduct business. And I saw a lot of similarities.” Chris also points out that he did not take the decision to formalize the business relationship lightly. “A small business gets to choose only two official mentors during the entire business lifecycle,” he added.


For AVIAN, Kevin says one of the benefits of mentoring is that it helps the larger company to remember how they got to where they are now. “To me,” he said, “mentoring is remembering. I get a chance to revisit some of the mistakes and successes we had growing AVIAN and use those to help ABSI.”


ABSI might be the smaller company in the relationship, but neither man sees that as a disadvantage. “Small means fast,” Chris pointed out. “Decisions are made more rapidly, and we’re willing to try new things—there’s less process and red tape, and less risk.” 


Kevin agreed with this sentiment. “Decisions can happen in an elevator ride,” he quipped. “You don’t need to schedule a meeting of stakeholders for weeks out.” 


The companies also recently formed a joint venture by the name of Velocit.e to pursue a variety of government and commercial work, and both are optimistic about the opportunities on the horizon.


The foundational friendship that led into the agreement holds strong. “Business is personal,” Kevin pointed out. “When people say business is not personal, I’d argue they’re completely wrong. Everything we do is based on relationships and networks. And this relationship just expands both our networks.”


About the Small Business Administration All Small Mentor Protégé Program

The All Small Mentor Protégé Program (ASMPP) was established in 2016 to extend SBA approved mentor protégé relationships to every small business. This dynamic program seeks to develop strong protégé firms through mentor-provided business development assistance, and to help them successfully compete for government contracts. For more information on the ASMPP please visit www.sba.gov/allsmallmpp