NREL’s First Protégé Graduates from C&TT Program

Brad Markussen, Rusty Gonzales, and Steve Major of St. Andrews Construction, and John Boysen of NREL stand in front of the new guest services area of the Visitor’s Center.

It is not uncommon that plans designed to help another end up benefitting the benefactor. NREL has recently experienced this effect as it has optimized its construction safety standards through the help of a company that the lab’s Mentor Protégé Program had set out to assist.

In 2009, NREL’s Commercialization and Technology Transfer’s (C&TT) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center launched a mentor-protégé relationship with St. Andrews Construction Services Corp., a local contractor that specializes in innovative construction projects. The original plan was for NREL to assist St. Andrews with developing their business model to better compete for large-scale government contracts, such as the type that have been so evident on the lab’s South Table Mesa campus. Construction teams from St. Andrews started taking on work in 2010, and are responsible for high-visibility projects such as the Visitor’s Center remodel.

As C&TT’s Rexann Dunn administered the mentor-protégé program with St. Andrews, the construction team was able to work closely with several other NREL staff, including Pam Motyl, Donna Rigau, and John Boysen. As St. Andrews’ teams started working on site, their counterparts at NREL quickly realized that this relationship could help the lab hone its safety procedures. Boysen was developing a new safety/health manual for long-term campus projects. St. Andrews piloted this and provided key input for the final product. At the FTLB, St. Andrews helped developing the complex lock out/tag out procedures, and was instrumental in creating the final policy that the lab uses today.

“This has been a win-win relationship for the lab and for St. Andrews,” Boysen said. “St. Andrews was able to share what they knew from other agencies, which helped NREL evolve.”

A few weeks ago, St. Andrews also achieved a first in working with NREL – it became the first company to successfully complete and graduate from the Mentor-Protégé program. “From the weekly safety walks to the fifty separate project status meetings, the team from St. Andrews became a very important part of the work we are doing here,” said Dunn, during the celebration IEC hosted to commemorate this achievement.

Rusty Gonzales, the founder and president of St. Andrews, was also enthusiastic about his firm’s time in the mentor-protégé program. “We were able to help other subcontractors with their safety issues, and we look forward to being able to continue to help with this aspect in the future.”

He went on to explain that the key to the success of the program was the fact that NREL and St. Andrews were both encouraged to be open and honest through the duration, for both positive and negative aspects. For example, together, the NREL staff and St. Andrews team members determined the cost associated with the new, strict quality control/safety criteria could be quite high. Because of this, bids for new work will need to reflect these higher costs, and NREL’s payment systems will be evaluated to better handle the added cost burden that the contractors will carry.

Now, even though they have graduated from the mentor-protégé program, St. Andrews will not be disappearing from NREL’s campus. They’ve won two RFPs (Requests for Proposals), and now feel well positioned to bid on and complete work for other federal agencies.

“This has definitely been a positive experience for us – it’s made us a better company from top to bottom,” Gonzales said during the graduation. The takeaway for NREL has been just as positive – in addition to the new safety protocols that St. Andrews helped develop, the lab’s Mentor Protégé Program now has a precedent for how to best work with future protégé companies.