By Christina Autry
Work is something that defines us. Our lives are shaped by how we spend our waking hours. Some of us have an entrepreneurial spirit, wanting to change society with a new idea we’ve brainstormed, or simply be our own bosses, building and running our own companies. This is where the non-profit, SCORE, steps in. The Service Corps of Retired Executives has been helping Houstonians work toward their business goals since 1965. SCORE has offices around the city, including a location convenient to the Five Corners District, at 5330 Griggs Road.
As implied by the name, SCORE consists of retired executives with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the business world. After wrapping up successful careers of their own, these volunteers are now ready to pour their time and efforts into local startups. Whether a potential business owner is in the idea phase, needs assistance with finding capital, or wants to grow their current business, SCORE has the expertise needed to guide smart decision-making.
As a non-profit and partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE offers its services for free. Becoming a client of SCORE means first being matched with one of Houston’s 150 volunteers who best fits the needs of your future business. “We have a very diverse set of volunteers, with retired CEO’s and CFO’s in oil and gas, law, accounting, marketing, social media, education, restaurants, real estate and more,” says Willy Verbrugghe, a SCORE volunteer who is currently assisting 24 clients.
Verbrugghe, like all SCORE volunteers, has an extensive background to pull from. “As CEO of my own businesses, I’ve had over 20,000 people working for me,” he explains. “I’ve worked in 10 industries, including nuclear power, aerospace, chemical, oil and gas, and robotics. I’ve had a great career, and I want to give back.” Verbrugghe has been serving at SCORE since April, but has been mentoring in many capacities for ten years, and sits on the board of the World Chamber of Commerce in Texas.
Signing up to connect with a SCORE mentor at houston.score.org is the first step in accessing all of what the program has to offer. Your first meeting with your industry-specific mentor will help them get a better understanding of what your goals are, and be able to formulate personalized next steps. Meetings can occur at any location that you and your mentor agree upon, whether that is a SCORE office or a coffee shop.
“We give our clients homework. They start off with creating a business plan, marketing plan, and cash-flow projections,” says Verbrugghe. “Each time we meet again, we take it to the next level.” Business-owners who need loans are coached on having proper documentation to present to the bank. Once loans are approved, SCORE is there every step of the way to assist with marketing strategies, finding business partners (if necessary), and providing counsel for the nitty gritty aspects of day-to-day running of your new business.
If at your first meeting, your business idea is far from complete, with questions still lingering about who your customers are, your business location, or any range of important decisions, SCORE mentors are there to point you in the right direction. SCORE workshops are also given frequently around the Houston area, instructing participants on topics such as creating a website, improving sales, to locating funding sources. Even if you are not currently being mentored, SCORE workshops are available (usually for free) to anyone interested in attending.
“A problem that many people have is that they think too small,” says Verbrugghe. “As volunteers, we can help them see more.” About 2,500 companies successfully launch each year in the Houston area, by partnering with SCORE. Through these new companies, approximately 5,000 new jobs are created each year. “91% of these businesses who started in 2019 were still in businesses a year later,” says Verbrugghe. “In my experience, the people who succeed are the ones who know they cannot do everything themselves. They listen, learn, and move forward. The ones who fail are the ones who think they know it all, don’t listen, and do all the talking,” notes Verbrugghe.
“I love being part of SCORE,” Verbrugghe says. “We have a very good team. We work well together, and clients can benefit from our range of perspectives.” For Five Corners District entrepreneurs, accessing the SCORE website, and being paired with an experienced mentor is one of the easiest, most beneficial steps that you can take to invest in the future of your business.