The nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors is expanding its presence in western Minnesota to help more local small businesses and nonprofits get off the ground and grow.

Called SCORE, the nonprofit organization is a partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration and has more than 320 offices and 10,000 volunteers in communities across the country. It offers free, confidential one-on-one mentoring services to entrepreneurs, along with other valuable resources like workshops and webinars.

SCORE’s Fargo office, in operation since 1965, is looking to branch out into Detroit Lakes and beyond, with plans to oversee mentorships in communities as far east as Wadena, and from Park Rapids on the north to Fergus Falls on the south (including the communities of Perham and Pelican Rapids). The Fargo office's involvement and leadership across this footprint will introduce SCORE's services to new communities in the area, and strengthen it where it's already existed.

The organization is on the hunt for experienced professionals from around the area -- of any age, working or retired -- to serve as volunteer mentors. Leaders of the Fargo SCORE chapter hope to recruit 15-20 new volunteers to cover West Central Minnesota.

Del Carver, co-chair of the Fargo SCORE and district director for North Dakota, said mentors run the gamut from retired Fortune 500 CEOs to college students who've launched their own startups, with experience in diverse fields that range from banking to agriculture to retail and more.

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"There's really a rich history of people who've been active in the Fargo SCORE," Carver said. “We have restaurants, door and window molding, dog care, rainy day dog parks, barber shops, lawn mowers, cleaning, home health care, furniture repair and consignment… it’s just all across the board."

Volunteer-hopefuls don’t need to meet any specific eligibility requirements to mentor; those interested go through a local interview process after submitting an application online, and are then matched with entrepreneurs based on their areas of expertise.

The mentorship role can be “really unbelievably rewarding for people,” Carver said. Mentors are able to connect with fellow business owners, give back to their communities, and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of up-and-comers.

“We have a saying in SCORE: ‘In the first third of your career, you learn; in the second third of your career, you earn; and in the last third of your career, you return,’” said Carver.

John Postovit, a volunteer mentor with the Fargo SCORE chapter, leads a business workshop. (Submitted Photo)
John Postovit, a volunteer mentor with the Fargo SCORE chapter, leads a business workshop. (Submitted Photo)

SCORE mentors provide advice and support to entrepreneurs as needed, either in-person or by phone, video or email. They guide entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business and serve as a resource for business owners, connecting them to vital information as well as to other business owners and service providers.

Common questions that mentors help answer include questions about accounting and insurance practices, hiring and employment, marketing, and how to come up with an original name and website and get a corporation registered. Mentors also help entrepreneurs find and apply for loans, grants and other financing through its collaborations with local financial institutions and government agencies like the Small Business Administration and United States Department of Agriculture. SCORE does not provide direct financing itself.

SCORE also offers entrepreneurs free online resources like on-demand webinars, ‘how-to’ e-guides, downloadable templates, checklists, blogs, articles, videos and infographics. Local chapters hold free or low-cost in-person workshops and roundtable discussions, too, at low or no cost. Topics range from startup strategies to finance and beyond.

The organization has been around since 1964, and in that time has provided education and mentorship to more than 11 million entrepreneurs. Last year alone in Fargo-Moorhead, Carver said, SCORE helped create 91 new businesses, on top of helping countless business owners stay afloat during the pandemic.

Mentoring relationships, he said, can mean the difference between making it or breaking it in the business world.

“There are two to three times the success rates if you have a mentor,” he said.

Area entrepreneurs interested in SCORE’s services, or those interested in becoming a local SCORE mentor, may reach out to the Fargo office by calling 701-239-5977 or emailing fargoscore@scorevolunteer.org. More information, and mentor applications, are also available on score.org.