Keeping Score: Nonprofit business advisers celebrate 50 years
The business-advice nonprofit Score just turned 50, but the advice it provides is ageless. The national organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the San Luis Obispo branch is celebrating 30 years.
For half a century, Score has provided free or low-cost mentoring and workshops to entrepreneurs and business owners around the country. It started out as a society of retired executives — Score originally stood for “Service Corps of Retired Executives” — but has since expanded to include anyone with relevant experience. The Ventura branch at one point had one volunteer who was 30 and another who was 90.
“I tell people, we only have one goal: that’s to help people succeed,” said James Murphy, who is very active with San Luis Obispo Score. “That’s our satisfaction.”
There are active chapters around the country and in all of three of the Tri-Counties. Score is partially funded by the federal Small Business Administration but also raises money through local sponsors and nominal-fee workshops.
Even though many volunteers started their careers decades ago, clients and volunteers say the advice given is universal. Santa Barbara Score was founded in 1968, Ventura in 1971 and San Luis Obispo in 1984. Murphy said Score helps many business think about four primary tasks: attracting customers, product marketing and promotion, writing a business plan and figuring out the competition.
Bob Vitamante is chairman of Score Santa Barbara and said that just like all Olympic athletes have veteran coaches, new entrepreneurs should seek advice from those with more experience. Senior businesspeople are more likely to understand when they don’t know something and ask about it, and the question-answer process is critical for any company’s development.
“The basics of business don’t change,” Vitamante said. “Those things are as true today as they were ten years ago.”
Robert Herr, CEO of the Santa Barbara-based startup FuelBox, said working with Score and Vitamante specifically helped them move from just an idea to a fully fledged business. The company sells a wall charger with built-in phone charging ports and a detachable mobile battery pack. Just this month, the team successfully raised more than $70,000 on crowdfunding website Indiegogo.
“We had all the ambition we needed,” Herr said. “We just didn’t understand the process of fully developing a business.”
Score matches business owners and mentors who then meet on a consistent basis. The different branches typically have mentors with wide-ranging backgrounds and are able to find volunteers with either the right skills or the correct experience in specific industries. Lori Volk, founder of Ventura-based Lori’s Original Lemonade, said she meets with one mentor monthly but has also been set up with other volunteers when different needs arose.
They’ve helped Volk with marketing, legal issues and crafting her business plan. For Volk, her mentor helped keep her on track to craft the the parts of a business that are needed for long-term growth but aren’t most enjoyable. Volk now sells her Lemonade in more than 300 stores in California and recently began distributing in California Vons.
“I had a vision, but that’s about all I had,” Volk said. “I didn’t know how to read financial statements. They have taught me so much about how to be profitable and how to run this business.”