CLEVELAND — If you’ve ever had an idea for a business but no idea how to get it off the ground, there is free help available right at your fingertips, from successful business leaders here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.
Kolnita Riggins-Walker has a vision — turning her father-in-law's former dental practice of 70 years into a thriving upscale restaurant called Docs on Harvard in Cleveland.
“When you have a dream and it is part of a legacy and it is part of a rich history, you just keep going,” Kolnita said. She has the experience — 24 years running Classic Cuisine Catering — but she was still looking for guidance.
“It’s one thing to be a full-service catering company with experience in business, but to go to a full-fledged restaurant, brick and mortar, I’m like, ‘I need some help,’” Kolnita said.
That’s where “SCORE Cleveland” provided an invaluable mentorship.
SCORE is made up of 10,000 volunteers across the country — half retired executives, half business leaders in the community — passing on their knowledge of running successful companies. Here in Northeast Ohio, they have roughly 90 volunteers.
“SCORE has been phenomenal and SCORE really showed up as a major resource I didn’t really know I needed until I got it,” Kolnita said.
Bob Cohen is the co-chair of SCORE Cleveland, which covers seven counties in Northeast Ohio, stretching from Ashtabula to Sandusky. SCORE has dozens of chapters across the country to help future business owners.
“And that's my reward,” Cohen said. “Nobody gets paid for this, 100% volunteer.”
Their volunteers provide individual mentoring, plus hundreds of workshops on business education, details and advice on marketing, finance and operations.
“Anything you need to get your business off the ground,” Cohen explained.
They work with a wide variety of entrepreneurs, from startups that just have an idea, to multi-million dollar manufacturing companies to build and tighten business plans.
And it’s totally free.
Chandre Ford, a hairstylist for more than two decades, was grateful to take advantage as she starts up her all natural bath and body care product line.
She says her mentor takes the time to really guide her — asking tough questions like, "What risks am I really willing to take?"
“And those are questions people really don’t ask themselves,” Chandre said. “Most people want to go from having a new product to being a multimillionaire overnight and that’s not how that works.”
“It’s all about dreams,” said Elaine Gohlstin, president of the Harvard Community Service Center, who teamed up with SCORE to boost small businesses in the area. “People heave dreams all the time, but how do I make my dream work? And it’s more than just going to bed thinking about it, but how do I really get it to work?"
Gohlstin points to the Lee Harvard shopping plaza that’s been around for 65 years — filled to 99% capacity.
“So that shows you there is a need for businesses to thrive in this community,” Gohlstin said.
Being in the Lee Harvard neighborhood was a pilot program and it’s been so successful, SCORE is now branching out to other communities like Slavic Village, Metro West, and Clark Fulton next. They hope to team up with several CDCs throughout the year to provide mentorship.
Again, SCORE is free to use and you can sign up for a mentor by clicking here.
The organization is always looking for diverse mentors as well, so you can sign up to volunteer by clicking here.