SCORE volunteers help startup companies grow

Vancouver's Ken Rone one of 32 counselors with local chapter

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor

Published:

 

SCORE

WHAT: A nonprofit affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Provides free mentoring and low-cost workshops in areas of entrepreneur education and in the formation, growth and success of small businesses.

SIZE: The Fort Vancouver Chapter is one of 364 chapters throughout the United States, with 12,400 working and retired executives and business owners nationwide volunteering as business counselors.

FORT VANCOUVER CHAPTER: Adjacent to the Clark College campus, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, No. TBG232, Vancouver.

SATELLITE OFFICE: 1563 Olympia Way, Longview.

MORE INFORMATION: http://www.scorevancouver.org, 360-699-1079.

After retiring from a 31-year career with the Ash Grove Cement Company, where he worked his way up to vice-president of manufacturing services, Vancouver resident Ken Rone thought it was time for him to give back to the community. Nine months ago, he began to volunteer for the Fort Vancouver Chapter of SCORE, a program affiliated with the Small Business Association that offers free business counseling and low-cost workshops to new businesses and people interested in launching a business.

Rone is one of 32 volunteer counselors in the Fort Vancouver Chapter, which has its main office near Clark College. Last year the chapter, which, like all SCORE programs, is staffed entirely by volunteers, assisted 342 clients, almost equally divided between men and women.

SCORE

WHAT: A nonprofit affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Provides free mentoring and low-cost workshops in areas of entrepreneur education and in the formation, growth and success of small businesses.

SIZE: The Fort Vancouver Chapter is one of 364 chapters throughout the United States, with 12,400 working and retired executives and business owners nationwide volunteering as business counselors.

FORT VANCOUVER CHAPTER: Adjacent to the Clark College campus, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, No. TBG232, Vancouver.

SATELLITE OFFICE: 1563 Olympia Way, Longview.

MORE INFORMATION: http://www.scorevancouver.org, 360-699-1079.

This spring, SCORE is launching a national effort to link all 364 SCORE chapters to create a deeper pool of expertise and to make it easier for clients on the move to transition easily to a new chapter. The initiative will also help volunteers build networking expertise and skills vital to today’s budding businesses.

The Fort Vancouver Chapter is always looking for more skilled volunteers like Rone. It also is working to increase the number of people it serves as part of SCORE’s nationwide goal of helping more people launch new businesses as the nation works toward economic recovery.

Rone spoke with The Columbian about SCORE’s work and his reflections on those who seek advice from the program. His comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What services does SCORE provide to small businesses?

What we bring is a vast array of personal experience to the table for the person who might have questions about how to get a business started and what pitfalls might be out there. What we try to provide the client is some insight, some guidance. We certainly can share with them some of the mistakes we might have made going through. Hopefully, their knowledge of those will help them avoid those pitfalls themselves.

We aren’t there to evaluate their vision. We’re there to evaluate the process they’re going through to get into business. We want to make a good solid handshake between their vision and reality.

When’s the ideal time for a person to come in — when they first have an idea, when they’re trying to write a business plan, or when they’ve already started a business?

Certainly our doors are open to startup businesses and visionaries, as we call them, and also to people who are running an existing business and may have a particular problem. We always say the earlier, the better. We want to provide guidance and assistance. With a person and their vision, we can help them in every aspect, including clarifying that vision.

What are the most common mistakes or challenges you see when people come through the door?

When they walk in the door, they generally don’t have a plan. They are seeking just to talk or discuss, to get another opinion because this helps them to clarify.

The people that have the best likelihood of success are those who have contemplated their idea for some time, maybe made some efforts in various directions to try to develop data and maybe clarify their vision and their idea. And they are probably to the point where they want to discuss that with experienced business minds.

In this downturn, is there a silver lining? Will individuals or the economy become stronger because of what we’re going through?

We’ve all seen a variety of recessions but certainly nobody living today has seen this type. Your heart just goes out to the college graduates. They went into their education for all the right reasons. Their heart was already over the fence and they come out and there aren’t the jobs for them and there likely aren’t going to be for some time. It’s that generation out there trying to seek their way, where there are compelling stories out there now. I think there are going to be tremendous success stories coming out of that group.

If you could generalize the mood of the people you see, are they optimistic, discouraged, hopeful?

The people that come through our door are probably on the optimistic side of that pendulum. They are coming in with an idea and are enthused about that approach. Maybe they’re just coming in for the counseling and to throw something up against the wall to see if it sticks, but generally they’ve got a vision.

What we don’t see coming through the door are the discouraged, the despondent, those who want to give up. They just don’t come our way.