Unsure how to move forward with his career as a dental lab technician, Nathan Shultz five years ago took a class, “How to start your own business,” taught by a volunteer of the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
Three years later, Shultz parlayed that $135 class and hours of free mentoring from SCORE counselors into opening his own dental lab in his Reading home.
Shultz is just one of 10 million entrepreneurs who have been helped by SCORE since it began 50 years ago in 1964 as a way for retired DuPont executives in Delaware to pay it forward by sharing their lifetime of business knowledge. A year later, SCORE became a national nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
This year, SCORE celebrates its golden anniversary with nearly 12,000 volunteers at 400 chapters across the nation who continue to help entrepreneurs start small businesses and achieve new levels of success in their existing businesses. SCORE also provides a way for people to give back to the community through mentoring and leading workshops and seminars.
“I think it’s rewarding to be able to give people advice,” said Russ Hoke, vice president of Reading SCORE, now known simply as the acronym. “There’s a reward in nurturing people and paying back to the local small-business community.”
Including Reading, Pennsylvania has 18 SCORE chapters and 710 volunteer counselors. The Reading, Lehigh Valley, Pottstown and Stroudsburg chapters have had a significant hand in counseling entrepreneurs through the years.
And they’ve been doing it for free, following the lead of the original DuPont group in Wilmington, Del. – a model that was adopted nationally by the SBA.
“I think SCORE is a wonderful resource for the country,” said Bill Evans, a retired executive with Bell Laboratories of Allentown and Lehigh Valley SCORE volunteer since 2001. “Millions of hours are given in volunteer counseling, and there is an enormous transfer of intellectual knowledge.”
When Hoke retired 10 years ago as a managing consultant, he joined the Reading SCORE as a volunteer and today is one of its 32 counselors.
Hoke said not all of the people that go through the Penn Street door at SCORE are as serious as others, and not all of their ideas are good enough to become profitable business ventures or to sustain or grow an existing business.
Shultz’s idea, however, proved to be a good one.
“It was a very insecure time in my life, and it was good to have that mentoring,” Shultz said. “To think that all it took was for me to sit in class one day per week for eight weeks, and they [SCORE] covered everything possible that I needed to know.”
A year after taking the SCORE class, Shultz’s job was eliminated. So he dusted off his book and got back in touch with Hoke, the class instructor. It was then that Hoke encouraged Shultz to write a business plan to start his own dental lab.
It has been two years since Shultz opened Nouveau Dental Lab, making dental crowns and bridges for nearly 15 dentists in the area.
“I hate to lose more than I like to win,” he said. “When I got laid off, I was definitely losing, and everything in my life was up in the air.”
A retired school teacher, Dick Heylmun joined the Pottstown SCORE as a counselor four years ago. Since then, he has mentored many entrepreneurs.
“I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction in helping to fulfill people’s dreams,” Heylmun said. “Not just to help them start a business, but to give them advice and counseling.”
One of Heylmun’s most memorable SCORE clients is Jason Brown.
Brown had been recovering from a car accident for two years, having gone through 11 surgeries, and was not able to find a job when his family’s pizza shop closed.
Two years ago, Brown came up with an idea to sell exotic-game sausage sandwiches including ostrich, crocodile and alligator, along with hot dogs, from an enclosed vending trailer in downtown Skippack. He called it Love Hot Dog Co.
Brown’s product began selling out very quickly, so he knew his menu was on point – but he didn’t know how to write a business plan. So he contacted the Pottstown SCORE for help in expanding his business.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without SCORE,” Brown said. “They really helped me to refine my business.”
Heylmun was assigned as Brown’s counselor, meeting with him on a weekly basis and available for telephone counseling at any time. He guided Brown on how to write a business plan and became his shadow along the way.
Brown later bought a full-service truck to sell his products. In addition to selling in downtown Skippack, Brown also parks his truck at Spring Mountain Ski Area in Skippack on the weekends and once a week at a local winery.
He also built a full-service kitchen commissary that he rents to other vending entrepreneurs. And he plans to add ice cream trucks to the business in the spring.
“I think SCORE is a marvelous resource too many don’t utilize,” Heylmun said. “We have people with a lifetime of experience to see things from a different set of eyes.”
SCORE proved to be a beneficial resource to Jane Heimbecker, owner of Le Femme Boutique in the West End of Allentown.
A formal gown boutique that in 2009 used just three designers, Heimbecker’s store now has 12,000 gowns from 80 designers. She wanted to make sure her business wasn’t growing too fast, so in 2012 she contacted Lehigh Valley SCORE, attended its free social media seminar and obtained help from a SCORE volunteer who is a Certified Public Accountant.
It turned out that most of what Heimbecker was doing in her business was right, according to SCORE counselors, but she needed their advice and guidance to convince her of it. She remains in regular contact with her counselors to ensure she doesn’t veer off the path to success.
“I think it’s really terrific for successful people that are at retirement age to take all of their knowledge and freely share it,” she said. “It’s really hard for small businesses out there, and it’s amazing how they [SCORE] kept me on the straight and narrow.”