BOONE — In these harsh economic conditions, it can be hard to know where to turn in order to navigate the current complex business environment. Fortunately, for small business owners who may be looking to expand or even start a business, there are dozens of seasoned professionals with expertise in running their own enterprises who are willing and able to help.
The Senior Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) is a resource partner of the Small Business Administration comprised of more than 10,000 volunteers who offer free mentorship and educational materials to entrepreneurs. In 2019 alone, SCORE assisted in creating 29,681 new businesses as well as 97,387 new jobs.
The High Country SCORE office is located in Boone at the Appalachian Enterprise Center. As one of the organizations’s newer locations, it is comprised of six volunteers, including Ken Swanton, who has worked in the travel and hospitality industry for most of his career. Swanton owned his own travel company before selling it to Carlson Inc. and running the organization’s U.S. enterprises before going on to start a travel-related internet startup in California.
“The profile up here is very different. Everybody that I have met up here without exception are far more entrepreneurial. I have been doing this for eight years now. (Clients here) just want to get on with it. They’re not looking for freebies. They’re not looking for handouts. They are just looking for some assistance to get going,” Swanton said.
SCORE provides its services through personal and online mentoring, business advisory teams, workshops, webinars, email communications and informational databases. Additionally, SCORE’s first chapter is located in Asheville, where an additional 40 volunteers are able to assist entrepreneurs in the High Country.
Mentors across the organization have expertise in a wide variety of business-related fields. According to Swanton, if he or someone else at the organization does not possess the knowledge required in order to assist a client, he or someone else can easily put the client in contact with the right mentor who is better suited to offer specific guidance.
“If somebody calls me, like they did last week where a guy said he wanted to start a trucking company, I said I could talk to him about the basics of writing a business plan, but I can’t pretend to know the trucking industry. So I sent an email to Asheville, and sure enough there was a mentor (with the right experience). We try to match up backgrounds with the business opportunity the best we can,” Swanton said.
Additionally, SCORE volunteers can connect clients with other services, including attorneys and preferred lenders such as Vinny Muratore, who is the president of the SBA Loan Division at Stone Bank.
“We provide government funds through SBA, USDA and FSA. We help any business from agriculture to assisted living facilities to bed and breakfasts. Where people go to a bank, they’ll need 20 to 30 percent down. If there’s real estate involved, going with SBA, you only need 10 percent down. We not only give them a good rate, a good term, and excellent down payment requirements, we even give them additional capital for working capital so they’re not behind the gun when they start,” Muratore said.
SCORE and banks, such as Stone Bank and others, work together so that business owners are prepared for when they apply for a loan. SCORE assists by working with clients to ensure that a client’s business plan has exactly what a bank is looking for in order to issue funding. According to Muratore, Stone Bank can loan out six months of working capital, hiring capabilities, signage and tenant improvements, all of which are included in the loan. Stone Bank also offers loan that can be issued over long periods of time, such as loans for 25 years with as little as 10 percent down.
High Country SCORE has assisted numerous businesses locally, including a regional magazine, a float spa business and a window cleaning business that was started by a Caldwell Community College student while he was a senior at Watauga High School.
While SCORE’s main objective is to help entrepreneurs so they can be successful, one of the organization’s most vital services it provides is helping a burgeoning entrepreneur or existing business looking to expand, know when an idea is not feasible, or if an idea has the potential to negatively affect the business.
“As one of the other things as SCORE mentors that we are charged to do is to try talk somebody out of starting a business when it’s a really bad idea. That is one of the hardest things to do, because you’re dealing with people that are excited. We try to work them through the business plan steps and hopefully get them to the point where they think, ‘Does this really make sense?’ I think that in some ways is as beneficial as helping people start a business, because the last thing we want is to get people to invest their savings and time into something that is not going to work,” Swanton said.
High Country SCORE is located at the Appalachian Enterprise Center in Boone, located at 130 Poplar Grove Connector. Up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business experts alike can request a mentor by calling (828) 264-2732. Additionally, Vinny Muratore of Stone Bank can be reached by calling (954) 298-6989.