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Wanda Martinez started Los Angeles-based Dean Ryan Consultants & Designers in 1983 with $10,000 in capital and one employee herself to provide construction management consulting services.

As a small, woman-owned company, Martinez said she faced disadvantages in competing against larger firms in a male-dominated industry.

But prospects turned around, she said, after she was certified as a socially and economically disadvantaged business owner under the Small Business Administration’s Section 8(a) program which opened the door to government contracts. (For more information, contact the SBA at 818 552-3203).

Today, Dean Ryan has grown to 31 employees with $3 million in annual sales and two new offices in San Diego and Arlington, Virginia.

Martinez was interviewed by Los Angeles Business Journal staff reporter Julie Sable.

There was a significant gap in my business between 1983 and 1993 not just in income but in the types of contracts we were being awarded. I knew we could handle bigger contracts, but the problem was that government agencies typically do not cut up contracts small enough for smaller businesses such as ours to effectively bid on.

Large businesses and even the City of Los Angeles didn’t know what we had to offer as we were unable to bid on the big projects. One way to make myself known to them was to find a mentor. I did actually approach some of the older firms here in Los Angeles and establish mentor relationships.

Additionally, I took on contract work from bigger firms but often times, before they got to know our firm, they would give us secretarial and photocopying work. I took that work very reluctantly, mainly because it was one way of proving myself to these firms and also because I needed the revenue. Doing a good job on the humble work opened the door just a little more to enable me to get the technical portions of the contracts.

Once we did work with the larger firms, we were able to gain their respect and we now team with some of them on a regular basis.

Probably the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome was obtaining financing. It was a humiliating experience as I was turned down by at least five banks, even when I had revenues of $1.5 million. I did have a small minority bank walk a mile with me and give us a line of credit but the big banks basically just showed me the door. The major reason I was turned down by the banks is that I am a minority and a female.

My big breakthrough came in 1995 when I became certified in the SBA’s 8(a) program. Being 8(a) certified made all the difference in the world. Now, instead of working strictly as a sub-consultant, we are prime contractors on projects that we never would have had a chance to even bid on.

Projects that we are working on include a five-year contract with the Federal Highway Administration for environmental engineering projects in California, Nevada and Arizona, providing environmental services on the Alameda Corridor and energy and water conservation with the United States Navy.

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