The Small Business Administration is using National Small Business Week to highlight one of its most lasting accomplishments: the 50th anniversary of SCORE, a nonprofit association that today has more than 11,000 volunteer mentors and 320 chapters and provides free mentoring and advisory services to small businesses nationwide.
SCORE—previously known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives—was informally started in 1953, when retired industrial engineer Maurice du Pont Lee of Wilmington, Delaware, of the well-known company DuPont, organized a group of retired executives and professionals to counsel small firms. The success of du Pont’s local program sparked interest in creating similar small-business advisory groups in other cities, and by 1963, there were 50 such groups nationwide.
SBA’s head at the time, Eugene Foley, decided to formally organize these groups as SCORE in 1964, which originally had 2,000 volunteers. Walter H. Channing, a retired merchandising manager for Crowley’s department store in Detroit, served as SCORE’s first president and counseled more than 800 entrepreneurs himself over the years, according to his 1997 obituary. (SCORE now has an award named after Channing, which it gives out to its most dedicated small-business mentors.)
In a 1964 letter to the editor of The New York Times, then-future vice president Hubert H. Humphrey wrote about the SBA’s hopes for SCORE: “Of all small firms starting this year, about half will ultimately fail, due largely to lack of management skills,” Humphrey wrote. “Professional consultation would sharply reduce this appalling waste, but few small firms can afford it.”
The idea behind SCORE hasn’t changed over the years: Entrepreneurs need guidance and coaching, and former and current business executives—those who’ve been in the trenches themselves—are well suited to provide it. However, the volunteer organization has evolved. In the late 1990s, SCORE began offering businesses free online and email counseling services to broaden its geographic reach and usefulness—and today much of its volunteer mentoring occurs online. It also hosts online workshops, email advice tools and other free services.
The organization has now provided its counseling services to more than 10 million U.S. small-business owners.
“This milestone is about so much more than half a century of existence; it is about the work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have donated their time, energy and knowledge and about the more than 10 million small business owners who used those resources to enhance the American economy and their local communities,” SCORE president Ken Yancey said in a news release. “We are honored to be a part of these stories and these accomplishments and look forward to serving 10 million more.”
SCORE says its 50th anniversary celebration will continue throughout 2014, including the 6th annual SCORE awards on August 14 in Washington, DC.
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