Many of the local employees out of work, or whose places of business closed during the pandemic, saw the virus-induced economic downturn as an opportunity to start a business.
For SCORE Bucks County, a local chapter of a national nonprofit committed to providing business mentoring services, the influx of new business is a good thing. The downside, however, is that the skyrocketing demand in new mentoring requests has left the Bucks chapter struggling to keep up.
In fiscal year 2019, the chapter handled 1,200 mentoring sessions. For 2020, that number grew to 1,767 mentoring sessions. For the 2021 fiscal year, the Bucks chapter handled a whopping 3,055 mentoring requests, followed by 2,432 mentoring sessions and 38 workshops with 1,409 attendees for fiscal year 2022. The influx of mentoring requests has kept the chapter’s more than 70 volunteers busy, according to Chairwoman Linda Zangrilli.
The surge in mentoring sessions, in addition to be driven by the pandemic, stems from the eastern Montgomery County chapter of SCORE joining with SCORE Bucks County. SCORE Bucks, in addition to serving Bucks County business owners, also serves the eastern portion of Montgomery County, from Willow Grove to Blue Bell.
In response to the increased demand, the chapter is seeking volunteers to guide would-be business owners and entrepreneurs throughout their business ownership journey.
“We want new people who have the time and are willing to give back,” said Zangrilli, who began volunteering with SCORE six years ago. “We need people who are engaged.”
SCORE provides mentors with ongoing training on everything related to business. Mentors typically have a specialty or area of expertise based on their career and educational background, but the organization teaches all mentors the basics of business startup.
“Learning never stops,” Zangrilli said. “Every client brings something different to you and you actually learn as you’re teaching the client too.”
When the organization began in 1964, it was focused primarily on recruiting retired executives and former business owners as mentors for the next generation of entrepreneurs. That mindset has changed dramatically in recent years with some mentors still holding down jobs or running their own business.
Under the leadership of Zangrilli – the chapter’s first female chair – the Bucks chapter has diversified its pool of mentors. Zangrilli, who worked 30 years in operations management, customer service and management, initially wasn’t sure if she had the right experience to be a SCORE mentor.
“I never started a business. I was seriously doubting whether I could contribute,” Zangrilli said. “It’s great to be a business owner because you kind of know a lot of the pitfalls, but you don’t have to be.”
The key to mentoring success is involvement, according to Zangrilli. The goal of a mentoring session is to not only answer the client’s questions and guide them, but to also set goals for the next session.
“In order to do it right it does take a time commitment,” Zangrilli said. “It’s never a one and done situation. You want it to be a commitment on both sides.”
Each client has different needs. Some may meet weekly, then shift to monthly sessions as their operations begin. Some clients may need support for a few months, while others need SCORE’s help for a few years.
“You want to build a rapport,” said Zangrilli. “You want to establish a relationship.”
Learn more about the organization and the work they are doing in the community at SCORE of Bucks County.