In the beginning, Holly Jo Anderson wasn’t altogether sure about starting her own company. “My whole family had businesses,” she says. “I saw how much they work, and it was just not something I wanted to do.”
Still, when it came time to leave employment at a Twin Cities marketing agency, encouragement from others prompted her to consider the possibility. In 2001, a Google search led her to a seminar entitled “Going Into Business,” offered by the nonprofit SCORE.
Attending that seminar turned out to be a good move for Anderson. Today, she’s the owner of Plymouth-based Veritas Marketing. “[The seminar] was wonderful,” Anderson recalls. “They were completely thorough. I remember just walking out of there at lunch and going, ‘Oh, we can do this.’”
With its first chapter opening in Minneapolis in 1964 and now celebrating its 50th anniversary, SCORE (Service Corporation of Retired Executives) has the mission of helping entrepreneurs nationwide start and grow their businesses. To that end it offers workshops and seminars, webinars, business counseling, and the opportunity to be paired with a mentor.
Now a national organization based in Herndon, Va., it has 320-plus chapters and more than 11,000 volunteers (including 500 in Minnesota) who offer expertise in more than 60 industries. Because it’s supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and thanks to its network of volunteers, the organization can deliver services at no charge or at very low cost.
For each business, the organization starts off by getting to know its client. “In most cases, we meet with [entrepreneurs] at least three times,” says Rick Barkley, chair of the Minneapolis chapter. “At the first meeting, we separate them into startup businesses or existing businesses and get to know them, at the second meeting we begin to put a plan together, and at the third meeting we begin the execution of that plan, whether it’s a startup or a plan to grow the business. We’re also one of very few chapters in the United States who offers peer-to-peer counseling.”
A wide variety of Minnesota startups have benefited from SCORE consulting. One is Boom Island Brewery, which makes Belgian-style ale and was started in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Kevin and Qiuxia Welch. Both French horn players from the Minnesota Orchestra, they had a passion for Belgian beer, but neither had brewing or manufacturing experience.
For two years they were counseled by SCORE mentor Marshall Jones, who helped them start, manage, and grow their business. Now retired, Jones worked at Xerox before launching a copier business that he eventually sold to a Fortune 500 company. SCORE also brought in seasoned small-business owners to share their skills, knowledge, and expertise with the new brewery owners. In addition, the\ couple joined the organization’s CEO Forum, a group of eight to 10 small-business owners who get together monthly to share ideas and issues (such groups do not include companies that compete against each other).
Another startup helped by SCORE is Honey & Rye Bakehouse. Opened last year in St. Louis Park, it was founded by longtime friends Anne Andrus and Emily Ackerman, who grew up together in Little Falls, Minn., and went their separate ways after high school. They reunited to pursue their dream of opening a neighborhood bake shop similar to ones seen throughout Europe.
Although Andrus is a certified baking school graduate and Ackerman worked for years with local advertising agencies, neither had direct experience in starting and managing a bakery. Enter Mort Harris, their mentor through SCORE. Now retired, he spent more than four decades in industrial distribution and bought and sold several small companies. Harris counseled the entrepreneurs on developing a business plan, deciding on a location, negotiating a lease, pricing, and marketing. The business has been a success from the get-go.
As for Anderson of Veritas Marketing, after the initial seminar, she requested a mentor and was paired with the late Tommy Thompson, former CEO of advertising agency Colle & McVoy. “He couldn’t have been a better match for us,” Anderson recalls. “He knew the business. He knew exactly what we were going to be doing. He reviewed our business plan and basically gave us the green light. My mentor was actually my business consultant for many years. Whenever I had questions or needed something, I could call him and he was there.”
That included helping her through some tough times, such as when, shortly after launching, Anderson faced a lawsuit followed by the departure of her partners. “I had people leaving,” she recalls. “That means it’s my business now, and I need to take care of the business. That comes first. Tommy had said, ‘Go to the bank, secure your accounts.’ You don’t really think about that kind of stuff. He was really good at helping me navigate that whole thing.”
Today, Anderson gives back by volunteering her time as the leader of the marketing segment of the “Going Into Business” seminar, as well as advising SCORE clients and doing some pro bono marketing work for the organization. “It comes full circle,” she reflects.
SCORE is always looking for volunteers, notes Barkley. “Not all of our volunteers are retired. Many of them still work, but we’re looking for [businesspeople] who have experience and want to give back and help small businesses start up and grow.”
Minnesota entrepreneurs can become involved with SCORE in a variety of ways, whether it’s attending a seminar, engaging in a mentor/mentee relationship, or simply watching one of the dozens of free webinars presented by the Minneapolis chapter.
Last year, SCORE helped start more than 38,000 businesses, create over 67,000 jobs, and mentored and trained nearly 125,000 entrepreneurs and small-business owners across the nation. Says Barkley: “Eighty percent of the jobs in the United States are created by small business, so that’s where the action is — and we’re right in the middle of it.”