By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — A local organization focused on giving new businesses a leg up is transforming itself with a younger image.
The south-central Iowa chapter of SCORE, formally known as the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, has existed in Ottumwa since 1977, finding new leadership in the last two years. Gordon Aistrope now chairs the organization and is "putting a different spin on it," said Megan Framke, Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation initiative manager. SCORE functions as the volunteer counseling arm of the U.S. Small Business Administration and gives business owners advice throughout the life of their business.
"The first national meeting I went to I only heard a bunch of old people like myself talking," Aistrope said. "We need to recruit young people."
Today, approximately one-third of Ottumwa's SCORE board is comprised of those under age 50, including Kelly Gale and Ashley Moyer, coordinators of Regional Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Innovation (RELI) at Indian Hills; Bryan Ziegler, director of the Small Business Development Center at Indian Hills; and more.
"They bring some really dynamic things," he said. "If you were to ask me about Facebook or Twitter — I don't know, and I'm not going to know. So let's bring some people in who have that experience. Social media is going to be a big thing with new businesses."
Framke is excited that Aistrope is willing to work with a younger generation.
"He's pulling up a chair for them, giving them the chance to prove what they preach," she said.
Housing SCORE in the offices of OEDC and the Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce is a natural fit, Framke said. The SCORE team used to be located on the Indian Hills campus, where it didn't have much visibility.
"If someone comes in wanting to start a new business, I can refer them to Gordon and the SCORE team to set up a business plan," she said.
And if any local SCORE volunteer doesn't have an answer for a potential business owner, they can either uncover them on the national SCORE website or get connected with another volunteer across the nation.
"It's amazing how they want to help," Aistrope said. "They'll immediately respond."
While Iowa has a lot of resources for those wanting to start a business, Framke said these "hidden gems," such as SCORE's free services, are not communicated well to the public.
"We're all working together to achieve the same thing, but the average Joe of the community doesn't know about SCORE," she said. "SCORE volunteers will really walk you through the steps and make sure that you're comfortable with 'Step One' before moving on to 'Step Two.'"
Aistrope is also focusing on collaboration — "which wasn't done in the past," he said — including building relationships with Main Street Ottumwa and its new director, Bob Untiedt, and the Chamber and its new director, Tim Kurtz.
"They used to spend so much time on bringing businesses in but nothing on retention," Aistrope said. "I foresee us being facilitators in bringing in programs to assist businesses. We can bring in resources through the national SCORE. Our chapter had gotten to the point where it was being discussed that they might pull the chapter, that nothing was being done."
In recent years, SCORE has helped several local businesses develop a business plan and get started, including Tortilleria Los Twins and iDesign LLC.
"Things have changed," Aistrope said. "Banks want to see a business plan, and it has to be well-thought-out. What we want to help with is getting from this point to financing."
SCORE volunteers also give their clients a reality check.
"Let's really be honest about your projections," Aistrope said. "Take a step back and take a look. A lot of businesses won't begin to show a real profit until after three years."
Those looking for assistance in creating a business plan can visit SCORE at 217 E. Main St. or call Gordon Aistrope at 641-814-5907. For more information on SCORE, go to www.score.org.