The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mentor-Protege program is helping a Bakersfield woman realize her dream of owning a successful small business.
It is a dream that flows from growing up in Bakersfield, serving her country in the U.S. Marine Corps and later pursuing a career as a Department of Defense contractor.
It is a dream that Rebecca Robison says was guided by her prayers to God that led her to return to her Bakersfield home and open She Marine Construction Supply.
The oldest of Dan and Rachel Robison’s three children, Rebecca was born and raised in Bakersfield. Her family shared the collective experience of many local residents, who migrated from Oklahoma and settled in California during the Dust Bowl. Robison attended Curran Junior High School and West High School before joining the Marine Corps.
“My family often spoke of my opinionated disposition and would say: ‘You argue a lot. Maybe you should be a lawyer,’” Robison recalled. “Eventually, I put soldier and lawyer together. That realization led me to signing up for six years in the Marine Corps as a legal clerk.”
The original enrollment became a career, during which she saw duty at bases in the U.S. and overseas. She eventually transitioned to training war fighters to complete a variety of communications tasks involving radio and computer technology. Along the way, she completed her college education, studying political science, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern politics, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and earning a master’s degree in business administration from National University.
“There is so much silver lining to my education story,” Robison said. “My mom was the first person to graduate from high school in our family. I was the first to graduate from college and graduate school. Education is really a path from poverty to your personal potential.”
Following her retirement from the Marine Corps in 2011, Robison worked for Defense contractor Booz Hamilton, teaching information operations and war fighting to civilian Department of Defense employees.
“I was praying for direction in my life and God moved on my heart to return home. It was the best decision He ever made,” she said, noting that she decided if she was going to work that hard, she might as well work for herself. “She Marine Construction Supply has my heart and the full expression of my talent now.”
With the assistance of consultants at the Small Business Development Center at California State University, Bakersfield, Robison has developed business plans, identified resources and been included in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mentor-Protege program.
As a disabled veteran who heads a woman-owned company, Robison is being teamed with larger companies, including Bakersfield Pipe, Johasee/LMS Rebar and Supply, and Preferred Power Solutions to participate in large construction projects.
In a nutshell, the Mentor-Protege program is an initiative that allows small businesses to pursue large, complex public projects by teaming up with larger companies that have more expertise and resources.
Robison explained that through the program, She Marine has “the benefit of executive mentorship and bonding. There is also the potential of new client base and network opportunities for my company.”
She explained the larger companies are then able to subcontract to smaller companies, such as She Marine, to have access to “set aside work” in federal government jobs across the country.
The Mentor-Protege program is intended to help businesses in historically underutilized business zones, women-owned small businesses, service-disabled-veteran-owned small businesses and small businesses generally.
Robison’s company, She Marine Construction Supply, is a service-disabled veteran/woman-owned, broad spectrum supply company headquartered in Lake Isabella, with offices, a warehouse and pipe yard in Bakersfield and Shafter.
Major projects Robison’s company has been involved with include California High Speed Rail, Lake Isabella dam/spillway repair, the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park and LAX modernization. Robison also is pursuing a general contractor’s license that will allow her to expand her company’s opportunities.
Robison says she is grateful for and appreciative of the help she has received from SBDC consultants to “start and grow a viable business that benefits me, my family, my church and my larger community.”
The Small Business Development Center at CSUB is one of five service centers within the University of California, Central California SBDC Regional Network, which is a partnership between the university and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The center at CSUB assists entrepreneurs and small business owners in Kern, Inyo and Mono counties by providing free consulting, small-business training and research. For more information, go to csub.edu/sbdc.
Kelly Bearden is the director of the Small Business Development Center at California State University Bakersfield.