By Stephanie Davis | Photo by Doug Khrenovsky
Akron SCORE, a self-dubbed “job-creating nationwide powerhouse,” is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization composed of all volunteers, who are either retired or actively working business executives. The volunteers, referred to as counselors, offer mentoring and education to entrepreneurs in a four-county area (Medina, Portage, Summit and Wayne). Mentors in the Akron chapter are backed with industry experience, leadership, and management skills, such as accounting, business planning, customer service, and technology. They help bridge the gap between dreams and realized goals via confidential, no cost, face-to-face, and email counseling.
Entrepreneurs, according to Akron SCORE, typically fall into one of two camps: those who wish to start a business or those planning to improve an existing one. Types of businesses mentored by Akron SCORE include restaurants, small retail shops, manufacturing businesses, healthcare businesses, as well as various nonprofits.
“We mentor these clients on a one-on-one basis. We are available to schedule meetings with those individuals who want to start a business or ramp up a current business,” Tom Duke, director of communication, says. “There really is no one out there doing specifically what we do, as far as I can tell. Small-business development groups are similar, but they don’t do precisely what we do, as we do tutoring and mentoring at no cost.”
In addition to its mentoring opportunities, Akron SCORE offers a plethora of workshops. (In 2014 alone, it hosted more than 100 workshops.) The events cover marketing, finance, selling, and more.
“Workshops address the basics such as how to write a business plan. Business plans alone are essential — a must-have to start a business and be successful. It’s remarkable how few businesses have one,” Duke says, adding that there are also workshops on marketing for success, finance, selling products, and Quickbook, for examples. One special workshop is a six-week program titled “Simple Steps for Starting a Business,” which features everything an entrepreneur needs to start or maintain a business.
Although many workshops take place across the four-county area, a good number are hosted at Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at the University of Akron. Workshops in other counties are hosted at libraries or branches of universities.
“The Taylor Institute venue works as part of a perfect partnership with Akron SCORE, since they are a marketing group. They have helped us increase the number of people involved in our organization. And they’re close to our offices, too, in the Summit County government building.”
Akron SCORE’s work has been fine-tuned and refined over the 50 years it has been in operation. In fact, the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a community luncheon scheduled for Sept. 24 (the exact date of the 50th anniversary of the group’s startup) at which the national chair of SCORE, W. Kenneth Yancey, will offer a keynote address at the Duck Club, an exclusive event space that is part of the facilities of Akron’s baseball team, the Rubber Ducks.
Akron SCORE itself is part of a larger, national SCORE organization, which was founded in 1964 and includes 300 chapters nationwide. Akron’s chapter, currently chaired by Dan O’Connell, a former Merrill Lynch financial counselor, was one of the first chapters founded after the original organization got its start.
In Akron the group is 70 volunteers strong, who in the last year volunteered 11,000 hours of their time to mentor numerous businesspeople. More than 2,500 businesses are said to have been helped by Akron SCORE since its founding.
Overall, the Akron chapter has racked up 290,000 mentoring hours – “worth an estimated $29 million or $100 an hour in consulting fees if you were to assign cost to our services,” Duke says. “When you add it up, it’s very impressive.” And Akron SCORE can offer such cost savings thanks to sustained financial backing from the GAR Foundation, The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, and Akron Community Foundation.
“As for Akron SCORE’s view on entrepreneurialism, with the downturn in economy in recent years, more people want to get out on their own. That spirit of entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Northeast Ohio, especially in the four-county area that we serve,” Duke says, throwing out a statistic that a whopping 97 percent of businesses are small businesses.
Beyond helping small businesses in general, Duke says the organization is currently seeking more input from women and minorities.
“Today we are especially devoted to trying to get more involved in mentoring women and minority-owned businesses,” Duke says. Akron SCORE currently mentors a large number of women-owned businesses. “We are trying to recruit more women in particular to be part of the mentoring team.” (Four women are currently involved.)
For more information: akron.score.org
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