“Entrepreneurship can be the key to helping close many of the gaps that you see between whites and minorities,” says Bob Sands, president of the Madison chapter of SCORE. “And we are an important resource to help with entrepreneurship.”
The Madison Chapter of Score is a nationally recognized organization of current and former successful business professionals that offer counseling for start-ups and for companies considering expansion that are willing and able to undertake the next steps. SCORE’s counselors are volunteers with diverse backgrounds and experience that improve success rates for its clients.
“We have CPAs [Certified Public Accountants], people with loan companies, market research people, financial people, operational people, people who own several companies in the area,” Sands tells The Madison Timese in an interview at Cargo Coffe on South Park Street. “We have a little bit of everything at SCORE.”
Since becoming SCORE Madison president a few years ago, Sands has made it his mission to reach out to all of Madison.
“When I first got involved with SCORE here in Madison, we went around to a lot of people to find out what the image of SCORE was,” Sands remembers. “The image was of a bunch of old white guys who are not connected and out of touch. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I want to be involved in an organization like that.’ But then I looked at the reverse of it and said, ‘OK. Let’s do something with it. Let’s make something out of it.’ So we are trying to change that issue.
“People say when they look at the African American community that there aren’t a lot of them who want to get into business…. Well, I disagree with that,” Sands adds. “I think there are many African Americans who want to get into business, but maybe they don’t know how to or don’t have the opportunity.”
Sands moved to Madison from Southern California about four years ago and quickly got involved with SCORE. “I felt like this was a good chance for me to give back and to share my many experiences,” Sands says. “SCORE is a national organization funded by the Small Business Administration to a degree. We are fortunate to have some facilities provided to us at no cost by the MG&E center. There are about 13,000 volunteer mentors around the country and about 300-350 chapters. Here in Madison. we have about 40 members and we are from all walks of life.”
SCORES’ goals are to be an enabler in the growth and vitality of the small business community, to be an inviting organization that provides opportunity for successful business people, and to give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs in a meaningful way.
“It’s good for the community if there are a number of people who want to start a business and we can help them do it. It helps the community in so many ways,” says Sandy Weisberger, board member for the Madison Chapter of SCORE. “It helps people personally support their family. Number two, it adds more jobs to the community. More jobs means more money to spend and will help other businesses. It helps the whole community grow.”
SCORE Madison, who average approximately 700 consultations annually, runs a bi-monthly seminar for people who are thinking about going into business. “We average 3-5 people a session, so it’s almost one-on-one [counseling],” Sands says. “We run them through questions and answers: What kind of business are you trying to do? Do you have the right skill set? Do you have heart and the nerve to do this? If it comes out of this, “yeah, we really do!’ then we start to talk about starting a business. What’s your product? What’s your service? And a little more down the line we give more advice and talk about regulations and registrations and walk them through legal issues.”
Then comes one-on-one mentoring and prepping the prospective businessperson to approach the banks. “We work with the banks and know pretty well what the banks want. They want to see your business plan,” Sands says. “That’s the first thing. What kind of sales are you going to generate? How are you going to generate it? What’s your marketing plan? What is your cost structure going to be? What kind of money are you going to make to pay these banks back?”
SCORE attempts to reach prospective clients who are considering starting a business or those in business who need help with issues or growth aspirations. But they also want to reach potential counselors and influential people in the business field.
“We have quite a bit of experience and expertise here — I have 36 years and Sandy [Weisberger] has 40 years. Most of us have been around the block a few times. We’ve weathered the storm and had some good times and had some bad times,” Sands says. “So we can relay that experience to anybody coming in and we are trying to reach out to all walks of life — the young, the old, African Americans, Hispanics.”
Because business counselors are volunteers and the US Small Business Administration subsidizes the organization, SCORE’s services are offered to the clients at no cost or very low cost.
“It’s important for us to develop trust through the seminars and through the one-on-one mentoring where somebody feels comfortable to talk to you without being admonished somehow,” Sands says. “Then, after that, comes encouragement… just to keep encouraging them through the process. It’s hard for anybody to start a business and it can be very daunting. A lot of times you can get caught in emotional and mental traps and it’s good to have somebody to be able to talk to.”
“If you have a good idea, we’ll help make sure that you are doing the right things to get to where you want to be,” Weisberger adds. “Make sure that you are doing your homework and if you are not, we will let you know that, too. There are basic fundamentals of building a business that everybody needs to know — regardless of what the business is. We will help you with that.”
For more information about SCORE Madison, please visit www.madison.score.org