SCORE Mentor Fosters Diversity Among Entrepreneurs
Antara Dutta, President of the Delaware chapter of SCORE and a small business owner, doesn't shy away from a challenge. After leaving the corporate world to open a consulting firm with her husband in 2008, Dutta (pictured) used her corporate experience to raise capital for her new venture. In the process, she noticed that there was “no diversity of color or gender” in venture capital in her area. She wondered how women and people of color without contacts navigated in this world. Hearing her complain, someone said to her, “What have you done to make a difference to that issue?”
That question was Dutta’s call to action. At age 40, much younger than the retired business owners who are the most common SCORE volunteers, she applied to be a SCORE mentor. “Now I’m in the thick of it and loving it,” she says. The nonprofit organization, which is supported by the Small Business Administration, offers free mentoring and support for small-business owners.
At SCORE, Dutta has convened a think tank of women entrepreneurs to share insights about barriers to growing their businesses. “My first priority is to get more women and minority entrepreneurs a better shot at funding, because that’s where we see the biggest gap,” she says. “It’s amazing how, even in 2014, you see a difference between a woman capitalizing a business and a man capitalizing a business.”
She is enthusiastic about mentoring other business owners. “I learn so much,” she says. Dutta is channeling that knowledge into her latest business venture: an integrative wellness center, Ayuvia LLC.
As a counselor, she emphasizes financial planning. “That’s what makes or breaks a business,” she says. “That’s what actually interested me in doing this. It’s the numbers.”
Counseling brings both frustrations and rewards. Dutta ranks patience high on a list of attributes for any SCORE mentor. Not every business succeeds. But when mentoring pays off, the rewards are sweet.
One of Dutta’s mentees received recognition as the Family Business of the Year at the 2014 Delaware SBA's Delaware Small Biz Awards. A dancer who had run a successful dance academy for over 30 years, Valerie Gooding started to worry about her business's success after her husband, who handled the financial side of the operation, became ill and died. When Gooding came to SCORE, Dutta says, “She thought she wasn’t doing well financially, but actually she was doing fine.” Dutta realized the dance instructor needed help with the fundamentals.“It took me a couple of months to understand her business and then teach it back to her,” Dutta recalls. After being given the tools to understand her operations, Gooding has seen her New Castle Dance & Music Academy take off. She was even invited to perform in the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Dutta suggests that businesspeople with eight to 10 years of experience in a leadership role or running a small business might be qualified to become SCORE counselors. “Everybody should turn around and pay it forward in some way, and I think this is a great way to do so,” she says, noting that sometimes people need a nudge to step into service.
Consider yourself nudged.
Laura McCamy is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California. She writes about small business, real estate, and development. An avid urban bike rider, she also loves to cover bicycling, urban planning, and the intersection of bicycles and business. Follow her on Twitter @lmcwords.