Entrepreneurs can SCORE one for business

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Networking at the annual Madison Chamber of Commerce dinner, I met a young entrepreneur named Matthew Starr, who has an interesting startup business called Rally Energy LLC. He makes caffeinated mints that provide a boost, especially in the early afternoon when we’re otherwise tempted to load up on coffee or soda to restore full powers of concentration. As Matt and I were enjoying cocktails, we talked about what he is facing in the embryonic stages of business, and I mentioned the free counseling and business-plan vetting he could get from the Madison Chapter of SCORE (Madison.SCORE.org).

Matthew had never heard of the Service Corps of Retired Executives, and I suspect he has something in common there with other young entrepreneurs. Yet the organization that bills itself as “counselors to America’s small business” has a very active and engaged local chapter — 50 retired mentors from a variety of industries but with one common trait: They want to give something back to the community in which they achieved lasting business success.

I recently spoke to one of the local 50 who stand ready to assist, a gentleman named Gene Kroupa. For nearly 30 years, Kroupa ran a profitable market research firm in Madison, which is no small feat. He reports the local appetite for business risk is still pretty strong; in terms of client contacts through June, the Madison SCORE chapter had served 700 people, up 15% over the same period in 2013.

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People going into business, people trying to grow a business, and now nonprofit organizations can benefit from free, twice-daily counseling sessions, usually in SCORE’s office at the MGE Innovation Center (University Research Park). These are ongoing relationships, not hastily arranged one-offs, and they cover a lot of territory, including the fundamentals of developing business plans. At the chamber dinner, Starr perked up when I mentioned what SCORE could do for him, and I trust that a mutually beneficial relationship is developing.

Wisconsin has comparatively few business startups, so it’s vitally important that the ones we do have become longstanding businesses. With SCORE, a vast reservoir of intellectual business capital is, thankfully, available at your fingertips. “People are so appreciative that somebody will sit down in a nonjudgmental way and listen to what they have to say,” Kroupa noted. “Keep in mind that all these mentors have been there and done that. They have seen it all.”

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