SCORE Business Mentors Help Start New Businesses
When Bob Breaux retired, he could have joined a bowling league or met friends at a coffee shop, but his real passion is helping entrepreneurs get their start.
“I just get excited about working with people who are dreaming about starting a business,” says the 69-year-old Breaux, a former technology pioneer and entrepreneur.
So after a career that involved starting a computer technology firm in 1983—“when technology consisted of a 10 MB hard drive”—Breaux became the volunteer Louisiana director for SCORE, a network of expert business mentors. He is one of 11,000+ working and retired business professionals who have volunteered to provide free and confidential support to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
SCORE’s 50-year Legacy
When SCORE was founded more than 50 years ago, it was an acronym for Service Corps of Retired Executives, but today they welcome both working and retired business owners, executives and managers to become volunteer mentors. These days they are known as “Counselors to America’s Small Business” and partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, a federal agency that provides support to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
SCORE looks for volunteers who have business skills and teaches them how to mentor. Volunteers like Breaux go through a mentoring certification program that teaches enhanced listening, interviewing and problem-solving skills. During the three-month probationary period, mentors complete online training, shadow experienced mentors and participate in team mentoring before they are permitted to mentor on their own. SCORE provides the materials for mentors to use in one-on-one sessions, as well as online workshops and webinars.
In addition, all mentors must sign and maintain a strict code of ethics that puts a strong emphasis on confidentiality since mentors will be working with proprietary business information.
The results are astounding for a volunteer organization. In 2014, for example, SCORE helped start 56,079 new businesses and create 47,187 jobs, according to a 2014 Gallup Research Client Impact Study. The study revealed the extent to which SCORE impacts groups that have been traditionally underrepresented among business owners; in 2014, 56 percent of SCORE clients were women, 39 percent were minorities, and 13 percent were veterans.
Making a Difference in Louisiana
Breaux and his fellow mentors in Louisiana tend to use seminars to reach as many prospective business owners as possible. They average about 30-35 attendees at the seminars, but then 70 percent to 80 percent of the people they talk to may not go into business, says Breaux. “They have an idea; but once they hear how much work it’s going to be, they decide that maybe their jobs aren’t that bad.”
For those who do want to pursue starting a small business, Breaux works with them one-on-one to develop a business plan—the “what and how” of entrepreneurship—using a workbook supplied by SCORE. Even more important, says Breaux, is the why. “If your reason is to build wealth or leave a legacy or to enjoy a better lifestyle, then you need to know that before you discuss the what and how.”
While 85 percent of the businesses SCORE Louisiana works with are startups, Breaux also enjoys working with established businesses that need help growing and moving to the next level.
One such client is Cypi’s Cake Box, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Cypi and Mark Atwell have a successful cupcake business and want to expand into either Baton Rouge or New Orleans, but they have concerns about maintaining product quality.
“Quality control is very, very important in this business,” says Mark Atwell. “Most of what we make is from scratch, not out of a bag.”
The Atwells found out about SCORE at the Southwest Louisiana Entrepreneurial and Economic Development (SEED) Center, a business incubator affiliated with McNeese State University and local government entities. When they brought their concerns to Breaux, he suggested they centralize their baking process and just open a storefront in the new market.
For the Atwells, it’s a perfect solution. “It’s going to help us maintain quality control and save money on the square footage of the rental,” says Mark, who would recommend SCORE to any entrepreneurs who need help executing a business idea.
Volunteering Opportunities for Business Professionals
SCORE is looking for business pros with diverse backgrounds, including experience in everything from accounting and operations to sales and supply-chain management. There are more than 320 SCORE chapters in the U.S. today. To find out more about volunteer opportunities or to request a mentor, go to the Find a Location page of SCORE.org.
Breaux recommends volunteering with SCORE for anyone with business expertise, at any age. “Teaching others just helps you understand business better. I wish I had done this when I was younger,” says Breaux. “First and foremost, you have to have a caring heart. You’ve got to want to give back.”