Mentors Give Entrepreneurs a Leg Up in Business
When successful small-business owners talk about how they got started, they often have one thing in common: mentors. Some have gotten informal support from friends or colleagues, but many more have taken advantage of free and low-cost mentoring through national and local programs. You don’t have to be a startup to take advantage of these services. Seasoned business owners can use mentoring to gain knowledge to fill a gap or grow their businesses. Many of these resources offer funding or micro-lending programs as well as practical support.
Here are just a few of the resources available to your small business.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) encompasses many programs and partnerships. The SBA website offers a wealth of business data as well as a discussion forum for business questions. To find out more about the wide range of assistance available through the SBA, visit www.sba.gov or find assistance in your area with this handy map tool.
- If you’re pondering whether business ownership is the right path for you, answer the SBA’s “20 questions before starting.”
- The SBA also has suggestions for getting the most out of working with a business mentor.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are sponsored by a consortium of federal, state, and local governments, with assistance from private businesses. The centers can be found in every U.S. state, most commonly on university or community college campuses. Find the center nearest you here. There are also centers that focus on supporting women in business, as well as veterans.
- The SBA's Mentor-Protégé Program aims to help more small businesses win government contracts.
There are a number of nonprofit organizations, both national and local, that offer free and low-cost business mentoring programs. Here is a small sampling:
- SCORE, a 50-year-old nonprofit sponsored by the SBA, calls itself “America’s premier source of free and confidential small business advice.” SCORE connects 11,000 volunteer mentors with small-business owners at 320 offices in the United States and its territories. Consult www.score.org or call 800-634-0245 to find a chapter near you.
- MicroMentor is an online platform linking volunteer mentors with small-business owners. Think of it as an online matchmaking service for small businesses.
- Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center serves the San Francisco Bay Area, helping new business owners create sustainable enterprises. The group provides services in Spanish and English.
- TechTown Detroit offers a venture accelerator program for tech startups, boot camps for retail entrepreneurs, and co-working space, as well as mentoring.
- The monthly fee charged by the Nashville Business Incubation Center includes office space at the center in addition to regular meetings with a business mentor.
- NYC Seed is a public-private partnership that provides startup funding for web-based businesses. The organization matches entrepreneurs with both seasoned mentors and potential business partners.
In the unlikely event that there are no mentoring programs available in your geographic area, SCORE can also connect you with an email mentor.
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.