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SMALL BUSINESS NAVIGATION Score mentors help new business owners find their way

Updated: November 15, 2013 - 3:17 pm

Posted: November 15, 2013

By Susan Smigielski Acker


Many times when an entrepreneur has a great idea, business guidance is needed to get it from conception to market. That is where a mentor from SCORE can help.

The Peninsula chapter of SCORE recently presented a volunteer recruitment session for business professionals at the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce office.

Started in 1964, SCORE has 340 chapters in the United States. The organization claims it helped start more than 200,000 businesses and created more than a quarter million jobs.

Companies such as Jelly Belly Candy Co. and Vera Bradley Inc. received help from their local SCORE chapter, according to Peninsula Chapter Chairman Adrian Banks, business development officer with First Advantage Federal Credit Union.

In 2012, 37,000 new businesses - 53 percent of which were led by women - created 82,000 jobs nationwide, Banks said.

The role of a mentor is to help a budding entrepreneur through the business startup maze, but that is not all, Banks said.

"Some ideas are great, but the person needs help with a business plan," said Banks, who has mentored many aspiring entrepreneurs.

"Then there are others you have to create a reality for. They are dreamers. We are not dream-busters, but sometimes a reality check is needed," he said, laughing.

Jemal Harris, a freelance consultant and director of operations for Peninsula SCORE, who has also mentored many future business owners, agreed.

"There are times you need to tell them they should dial it back a bit - start small," he said. "And there are times when you might need to tell them to wait. Recently I met with a lady who first needed to get her personal affairs in order before she launched her idea. After discussion, we concluded that, and she thanked me for bringing it to her attention."

However, for those willing to push forward, SCORE offers workshops, online resources and tools for starting a business, Banks said.

"And it is all free," he added.

In addition, SCORE mentors can point entrepreneurs to other resources available through state and federal agencies, Harris said.

Having a good business plan is as important as the idea or product to get funding, Banks said.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "If they have done their homework, then they can get funding."

Mentors provide guidance on how to get a product to market, Harris said.

Steven DeFonzo, owner of From the Hearth Pizza, a catering company based in Carrollton, received help from Harris with his business plan. DeFonzo needed funding to purchase a mobile brick oven.

"He loved my idea, but I was having a hard time getting funding with the business plan I had," DeFonzo said. "We tweaked it. Then Jemal introduced me to Adrian Banks at First Advantage. Within two weeks after submitting my plan, I had funding.

"Even though Jemal is very busy, he took time to meet with me," DeFonzo said. "He made me feel that it was going to work out."

Now DeFonzo is busy making and baking his pizzas at area wine festivals and corporate events.

Navy pilot Dave Hunt had an idea to make the jump rope a better workout with his invention Crossropes. Hunt houses his business at the Peninsula Technology Incubator in Hampton, having moved it from Florida where he was stationed. Not having Hampton Roads connections proved to be an obstacle.

"I tried to secure financing for growth; I hit a wall from two previous lenders," he said.

"Then I met Jemal, and he linked me with opportunities that gave me an instant impact," Hunt said.

Harris also served as a sounding board for Hunt's various goals.

"Working with SCORE and Jemal gave me an idea of the big picture, especially for when I get out of the Navy," Hunt said. "It is a good program." 

Ready to inspire?
To volunteer as a SCORE mentor in South Hampton Roads, visit or call  455-9338. For SCORE’s Peninsula office, visit or call 262-2000.