Fifteen years ago, Tim Messer Construction, Inc. looked quite different than it does today. Back then, the company did not have any policies in place and details of prospective jobs were recorded with paper and pencil. Today, the construction company has an office policies handbook and employees have job titles and descriptions.

“We didn’t even have a diversity program, and now we do,” said Stephen Ferguson of Tim Messer Construction. “Now we are professional.”         

Ferguson learned about Southern California Edison’s (SCE)’s mentorship program for businesses while working on a small project at the utility’s Big Creek site. He applied and was selected to the 18-month program from which he recently graduated.

Mentoring businesses is a component of SCE’s EDGE (Entrepreneurial Development, Growth and Education) program, a program that helps diverse business owners improve and grow their organizations through coaching, workshops, learning curriculum and networking.

Joe Alderete, director of SCE’s Supplier Diversity and Development department, notes the utility has been involved in helping California’s diverse businesses — both large and small — compete and grow since 2010. Since that time, more than 600 diverse businesses have achieved over $200 million in contract awards from SCE.

“If we don’t invest in our suppliers, we may end up paying a premium,” said Alderete.

Developing diverse suppliers is also good for the economy. In SCE’s 2014 mentorship graduating class, there was about a 35 percent increase in the number of people the companies employed overall, and five graduates are now providing additional services or materials to SCE.

The California Public Utilities Commission drives some of the supplier diversity initiatives, said Alderete. He noted the commission wants to see large utilities make investments in diverse businesses beyond just awarding contracts.

Kusum Kavia of Combustion Associates, Inc., another recent graduate of SCE’s EDGE program, said it was helpful to have her coach analyze the company’s sales strategy. She learned not to passively wait for customers to come through the company’s website, nor to spend valuable resources going after too many projects at once. Her coach also indicated where the company could make a profit.

“It was very eye-opening,” she said. “I couldn’t see the low-hanging fruit, but my coach did.”

Ultimately, SCE’s EDGE program for diverse businesses is in place to help businesses succeed.

For years, more than 80 percent of the jobs Tim Messer Construction, Inc. worked on were for small developers, but now the company is targeting bigger jobs at large companies. Ferguson recently submitted bids to the U.S. Forest Service and Pacific Gas & Electric, and was told his proposals were outstanding.

“That has never happened before,” he said. “It felt really good.”

Kavia’s SCE EDGE coach left an impact on how she views her business by asking her: “What kinds of problems is your company solving for your customers?”

Kavia said it was important to get an outside point of view because entrepreneurs are always juggling many things at once and could lose sight of something as important as the customer’s needs.

“It was a tremendous learning experience,” she said.

In addition to Combustion Associates, Inc. and Tim Messer Construction, Inc., SCE’s 2014 EDGE program graduating class included: Alameda Construction Services, Alton Builders, Inc., Apex Computer Systems, Coleman Construction, Dahl, Taylor & Associates, Inc., Hair Electric, Highlands Diversified, Inc., and New World Environmental, Inc.