Small business mentor helps entrepreneurs realize their dreams
By Jessica Laskey
Keith Walter is admittedly “terrible at retirement.” The 62-year-old has tried to retire several times over the past several years and each time he’s found himself diving back into the work world at the behest of friends who need his skills as a telecommunications expert.
“I love to problem solve,” says Walter, who started out as a physicist before getting involved in engineering and technology, where he specializes in “transformation projects” (when telecommunications companies periodically upgrade their technology, a consultant like Walter helps smooth the transition). “The bigger the problem, the better for me.”
But Walter has discovered that his favorite problem solving to date has come from his work as a small business mentor with SCORE, a nonprofit
association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow and succeed nationwide.
Walter first got involved with the Sacramento chapter of SCORE—which he now chairs—six years ago when he and his wife moved to Fair Oaks after one of his many attempts at retirement since age 50. He joined SCORE, Rotary and half a dozen other local service organizations in an effort to keep himself rooted instead of jetting off to the next exciting project (recent work has taken him to Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore).
“The idea was if I got involved in enough activities, I wouldn’t have time to un-retire,” Walter says. “Though, it certainly hasn’t changed my desire to run off to exotic locales.”
But it did introduce Walter to an organization that has allowed him to share his extensive knowledge base with others trying to follow in his footsteps. Approximately 40 volunteer SCORE counselors with a wide range of business backgrounds work with applicants to discuss everything from business plans to escape plans.
“About 2,000 people contact us each year asking for help,” Walter says. “The vast majority will never go on to start a business. Half of our work is walking them through what it takes to start a business so they don’t lose their life savings or put their families or future at risk. Often, their dream is a good dream but they don’t have the resources to start it right now, so we redirect them to explore other options within their profession, work with local job centers to find a new job or work on their finances.”
This screening process not only helps avert potential disaster but also lets SCORE focus its efforts on those who are ready to start a business and provide them with connections to the Small Business Administration, city, county and state governments, chambers of commerce and financial institutions to help them begin or improve their operations. SCORE also holds workshops four times a month about the fundamentals of getting started and matches applicants with local mentors who can provide a specific skillset.
“I’ve long believed that small business is the backbone of our economy and success as a country,” Walter says. “Someone might have a passion but not have the background or skills to turn that passion into a profitable business. SCORE has done great work over the last 50 years bringing those passionate people together with those who are interested in giving back.”
“My favorite part is when I’m able to find someone who listens and takes my advice and that advice turns out well for them,” he continues. “SCORE gives me a reason to get up in the morning and find another problem to solve. That’s the beauty of the nature of volunteering—you never know where it’s going to go.”
To learn more about SCORE, visit sacramento.score.org.