M3 Engineering Group PC – St. Louis
Most people avoid talking about work during happy hour.
But Marjorie Melton, CEO and co-founder of the M3 Engineering Group, a St. Louis minority, woman-owned and disadvantaged business consulting firm — all of which help secure contracts — and the staff of the St. Louis Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC, a lead BDP program) are anything but ordinary.
Melton and her co-founders Marc Eshelman and Todd Williams met Larry Dill, then a counselor with the St. Louis SBTDC and now MO SBTDC International Trade Center director, at Beffa’s, the now-defunct, more than century old Midtown watering hole in 2009. Dill introduced her to Kevin Wilson, director of the St. Louis SBTDC. Wilson and Melton hit it off.
That was the start of a fruitful relationship that grew from three highly qualified engineers’ bright idea to a respected engineering consulting firm with 11 employees, offices in St. Louis and Chicago and revenues topping $2 million. Revenues are expected to be $2.5 million or more this year, the result of a deliberate growth strategy.
M3 provides civil and environmental engineering planning and design for public and private clients in and around St. Louis and in Illinois, including water, wastewater, stormwater, transportation and site development. M3’s staff specializes in hydraulic modeling of storm and sanitary systems, flood mitigation and stream stabilization. There’s a very good chance that any water construction project you see in the area has benefitted from M3 expertise.
Wilson and other St. Louis SBTDC staff began by whipping the partners’ business plan and financial data into shape to secure much-needed startup loans. They also prepared a detailed analysis of the local competition (44 companies within five miles of the proposed new business’ ZIP code); and tackled HR, cash flow, tax and payroll issues.
Greg Tucker, then with the St. Louis SBTDC and now assistant statewide SBTDC director, also assisted the partners in developing a strategic vision for the company’s future.
As a direct result, Melton obtained a SBA 7(a) loan for $25,000 and an Urban Enterprise loan for $45,000 in September 2009 and never looked back. These loans were repaid well in advance of the scheduled maturation dates, due to the success the firm had in winning contracts. Wilson and the St. Louis SBTDC also helped the firm obtain 8(a) certification, which helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace.
(Urban Enterprise loans are state-funded loans for companies such as M3 to expand in or relocate to a designated Enhanced Enterprise Zone.)
When M3 started to feel growing pains, Wilson was again able to point them in the direction of more than $250,000 in capital funding, including another 7(a) loan and an Urban Enterprise Loan.
Melton is quick to credit Wilson and the St. Louis SBTDC with her firm’s success.
“We have worked with Kevin and his staff for all of the six years we have been in business,” says Melton. “Kevin and his staff are extremely helpful, responsive and there for us when we need them most. They helped us obtain initial start-up funding from SBA and the Urban Enterprise Loan fund, provided valuable training to help us navigate the murky waters of a small business startup.”
Says Wilson, “They are not just a great company. They are great for the community. They incorporate community service into their business model, and they reach out to engineering students from Rolla and Mizzou for internships and work experience.”
Each employee at M3 is given eight hours of paid leave per month to volunteer for community service, and staff have built houses for Habitat for Humanity, cleaned up Missouri rivers through Operation Clean Stream, collected and delivered food and served as mentors for aspiring high school engineers. One principal even journeyed to Guatemala to bring drinking water to a small village. The three principals had been successful; now they wanted to give back.
“Yes, we were all experienced senior managers with large firms,” says Melton. The three have nearly a century of collective, focused engineering experience. She was even president of the Board of Public Service for the city of St. Louis. “But we had to learn how small businesses operated, we had to develop procedures and processes that we took for granted when we worked for larger entities.
“I don’t believe we would be here without them (the SBTDC).”
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