The Packers Mentor-Protégé Program is getting ready to kick off its fifth session of the program with a new team of mentors and protégés matched from the local business community. On Thursday, Nov. 20, the program hosted a meet-and-greet for program applicants to try and meet a business match.

Since 2011, the Packers Mentor-Protégé Program has paired up individuals from local companies, making matches between successful “mentor” companies that can use their skills and experience to work with established, yet still growing, “protégé” companies. The first four sessions were transformative for several participants, allowing for an open exchange of experience and ideas geared toward the protégé company’s growth.

One of the protégés for the upcoming session of the program, Lisa Escalante-Ortiz, owns Dos Chiles, an authentic Mexican cuisine catering company. She says that her passion for her business and her excitement to build on her success led her to apply for the program.

“We want to have a clearer vision of where we’re going,” Escalante-Ortiz said. “We have a few different entities to our business and I’m at the point where I could hire, but it’s been a learning process.”

Eager to help with small businesses similar to Escalante-Ortiz’s is Mark Radtke, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of Integrys Energy Services. Radtke said he was excited to be able to have the chance to meet with other companies who want to be a part of the program, and looks forward to helping in any way he can. 

“It’s an opportunity to help businesses grow in our community; it’s an opportunity to give back a little bit,” Radtke said. “There’s nothing more exciting than growing a business and if we can help with that in some way, we’re happy to do that.”

Integrys Energy Services was a mentor in the program during the 2013 session, and Radtke has remained involved with it, attending some of the various networking events, meet-and-greets and training camps offered for both mentors and protégés. By using the connections that the program helps give to its participants, protégé companies can continue to excel.

“There are several that have great businesses in place today,” Radtke said. “They’ve got a lot of growth on tap and they’re looking at the challenges of dealing with that growth.”

Hoping to work with a mentor who could help her face such challenges, Escalante-Ortiz said she that is looking for ways to continue the growth of Dos Chiles, which already teaches classes, caters, and manufactures and sells a line of products.

For her, the next step is streamlining her business and continuing to bring her unique family recipes to those who appreciate authentic Mexican food. With the Mentor-Protégé program, she believes she can learn the best ways to meet these goals.

“These mentors are people who have been there, done that,” she said. “I want to learn from their past experiences and this is a great way to do that.”

By Katie Hermsen, Packers.com.