Small, minority-owned construction businesses get boost from USF

With construction in high demand and stiff competition to get contracts, the University of South Florida just launched a free small business mentorship program to help build diversity within the industry.

USF’s mentor protégé program focuses on small and minority-owned businesses in construction. The program recently trained up the first group of owners over an eight-week course, and they graduated from the program this fall. 

Nia Ogletree is among the recent graduates, and she said she never thought she would be able to break into the construction industry.

"There’s not many owners or other businesses that will teach you and teach a novice like me," said Nia Ogletree, chief executive officer of her construction management firm Arielle Management Group in Tampa.

After serving nearly 18 years in the Army, Ogletree started Arielle Management Group to turn her passion for building into a reality, managing construction projects around the country.

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"My first project was actually a roofing project that we did at the Lexington Veteran Affairs, so we started doing roofing and then we did some floor projects," said Ogletree, who works with government contracts.

Now she installs commercial fire alarm systems as a Siemens partner. Ogletree said she does a lot herself and wants to scale up her business and hire more staff. So she joined USF’s new small business mentorship program with the national construction firm Skanska.

"We’re small businesses, but they trust in us to take us under their wing and to show us what needs to be done," said Ogletree.

The assistant vice president of USF’s Supplier Diversity, Terrie Daniel said the mentoring opportunity fulfills a need by focusing on diversity in construction and the supply chain. The program teaches them how to operate better, win competitive contracts and grow their business.

"We know that we are one of the largest economic drivers in this region. And so this is one of the ways that we feel like we take responsibility for making sure that we are providing whatever it is that we can to support these businesses' growth," said Daniel."

The first group graduated this fall after eight weeks of training on the ins and outs of what it takes in the industry.

"We want to understand where they may have barriers and how we can assist them through those barriers," said Daniel.

Ogletree said it means a lot to have someone invest in her and her goals.

"It was the tools that we need to go out into the business world and utilize that knowledge anywhere," said Ogletree.

Daniel said USF plans to keep relationships with the businesses they mentor for any future university projects. That way USF can connect them with large-scale companies for more exposure in the supply chain. Daniel said the program will start training the next group in 2022, and anyone interested in learning more information can visit