SCORE mentoring gives Northern Nevada startups a business advantage
March 8, 2018
RENO, Nev. — For more than 40 years, professionals have shared their expertise with the owners of startups and successful businesses ready for a new phase as volunteers with SCORE of Northern Nevada.
Part of a national organization that began in 1964, SCORE of Northern Nevada's mentors cover 13 counties in northwestern Nevada and eastern California in a territory of 6,900 square miles. They mentor about 1,000 clients each year.
The probability of success increases by at least 50 percent,if a startup has a SCORE mentor, according to the national organization.
"We're supported by grants, which allows most of our services to be free," said Judy Haar, who became a SCORE mentor after retiring 14 years ago.
She pointed out that some workshops have small fees to cover the costs of materials, but most are free along with mentoring services.
"We cover all the different areas of expertise," she said.
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Haar teaches social media, branding, public relations and internet marketing. Other mentors provide guidance in strategy, branding, accounting, human resources, cybersecurity, regulations, IT services, supply-chain management and law.
When clients need specialized expertise that isn't available locally, they have access to mentors nationwide through the national SCORE organization.
They also work in partnership with other organizations in the region, such as the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Economic Development Center of Western Nevada (EDAWN).
"I like helping small businesses succeed. I'm doing that as a mentor," Haar said. "It's very rewarding, especially when you contribute to a successful business."
Many types of businesses are mentored by SCORE; the NNBW conducted interviews with a trio of local companies to learn more.
Lacey Szekely comes from a family of aviators, so it comes as no surprise she looked to the skies when choosing a career.
Her father and two sisters are pilots. Her husband is a pilot in the Navy Reserves and for FedEx. The Szekely family landed in Fallon while he was on active duty.
Szekely, herself, spent eight years as a pilot in the U.S. Army, flying a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter including two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one year in Egypt and Israel.
But after eight years, she decided she'd had enough of medi-vacs and VIP missions. She retired from the Army in 2012, and finding a new career proved challenging as her husband's military career required moving every three years or so.
She needed something that could move with her. And with two small children, something safer was in order.
"Aviation is fickle. I kind of feel like I used up all my nine lives," Szekely told the NNBW.
She gained certification as a home inspector, and in 2015, she founded Vertical Vantage, which uses drones to inspect roofs and to film properties for virtual tours.
"Drones are fun," she said. "It's cool to see the property from the pilots' perspective."
Getting her certifications as an inspector and drone pilot was the easy part. Turning those skills into a business took more training.
"A lot of small business owners know it's kind of trial and error, unless you have a mentor," she said"
The Small Business Bureau in Fallon provided initial guidance for Vertical Vantage. Then she heard about SCORE, which has been an ongoing source of expert advice.
"They have been instrumental," she said. "…They provide priceless information. When starting a business, you don't have funding to get and pay for professional advice."
SCORE mentors have been particularly helpful for Vertical Vantage in developing a marketing plan, designing a website, and understanding how Google works, she said.
Recently, Szekely began expanding Vertical Vantage in order to provide services in rural areas, as well as the cities in the region. She has two people training to become building inspectors and contracts with a drone pilot.
She is consulting with SCORE again as she expands.
"As we grow, we need different advice," she said.
Adam and Kellie Garcia grew up in families that owned small businesses, something they long considered doing themselves, and their mutual love of fishing served as the seed for their startup business.
Torn Waders is a line of branded clothing available online since April 2017 and at some events. Working on their own with some trial and error, the Garcias got their business started, including choosing a name, designing a logo and designing a webpage, all while continuing to work full-time jobs. They found sources for their products and began to build a network of resources.
With a booth at Hot August Nights in Reno and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off in Sparks, they made connections with other local businesses, including local companies to print and embroider Torn Waders' shirts, hats and gear.
"We're local, so we want to keep it local," Adam told the NNBW.
"It would be cheaper to send to Sacramento," Kellie added, "but we want to keep it local."
Although Torn Waders had a good start, the Garcias realized they needed help turning it into a viable business. Their connections lead them to SCORE.
"We didn't understand how to get our brand out on those (social media) platforms in the correct way," Adam said.
Mentors Haar helped with social media and marketing, and John Strohm showed them how to recognize what customers are buying, their demographics, and other do's and don'ts.
An early mistake, the Garcias admit, was that they over ordered.
"We need to see what happens," Adam said. "You don't know what people are going to order. What you like isn't necessarily what the customer likes."
The Garcias especially appreciate the positive approach the SCORE mentors have.
"Some things we were doing were right on track," Kellie said. "It feels good, we were doing something right."
With SCORE's continued mentoring, Torn Waders is moving into new territory. Crosby Lodge at Pyramid Lake, for example, has begun stocking Torn Wader products expect them to sell well.
"Just continuing to build locally, is our first priority, and hopefully we'll get into some larger (local) stores," Adam said. "We realize it's not going to happen overnight. But we're extremely excited and happy to go for it. … It's a lot of work and it's a lot of fun."
When Chemane René and business partner Steven Fine began LifeMap — a framework for people to plan how they want to live the last third of their lives — "we kind of did it backwards," René told the NNBW.
They got their business license first.
"We were in businesses, ready to go and realized, oh my, gosh, we're not ready," she said.
And that was despite successfully operating a previous business.
SCORE mentors helped them get their business going with a better plan.
"They have a wonderful forecasting template," she said, which helped them determine the true cost of operations and sales.
LifeMap came about several years ago when René was thrust into a family crisis, entering a whole new world of frustration and a "caregiving epidemic."
Her father had been living the good life as a pilot for ships navigating the Panama Canal until an assault left him with traumatic brain injury and in need of constant care.
"For all his wealth, success and power, he did not have a plan," René said. "We (family) were guessing his wishes."
She and her family eventually settled her father into a facility, where today he is doing well and getting the care he needs. But getting to that point put a lot of strain on everyone — something she hopes to help other families avoid with the help of LifeMap.
"Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers retire," she told the NNBW. "We're not, as a society, prepared to care for them. I want to raise awareness. (The crisis) is not coming — it's actually here."
While LifeMap walks through broad issues such as living wills and powers of attorney, it also reminds planners to map out passwords and other small things that are easily forgotten.
Initially, LifeMap focused on providing planning benefits through employers.
For example, employees dealing with a caregiving crisis cost businesses millions of dollars a year in lost productivity, she said.
But, as she found while speaking around the country, there were always individuals dealing with caregiving who wanted to take advantage of LifeMap.
Therefore, René and Fine are currently changing their business model to include individuals as clients, as well as businesses.
And whether they come to LifeMap through an employer or as individuals, clients receive a workbook and that takes them step-by-step through the planning process. Clients also have access to videos and other resources to help them plan.
"It's never too early and never too late to plan your story," she said.