Mentors give business owners a boost

DE KALB (IL) DAILY CHRONICLE — Mentors give business owners a boost

Created: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 5:30 a.m. CST 

SYCAMORE – If it weren’t for a group of business-minded volunteers, Ursula Dargis doubts she’d be in business today.

She said her startup business isn’t just surviving in one of the toughest economies in decades – it’s thriving. 

Dargis – a senior recruiter for her business, Sycamore Technical Recruiters – credits a lot of her success to the help of SCORE Fox Valley mentors who have been at her side since late 2009, shortly after she started running her business out of her home. 

In the two years she’s been in business, Dargis has moved her office twice to accommodate her growing company and its new employees. In 2010, she hired another senior recruiter, Owen Wilkins, as well as a technical recruiter, Mallory Howes. They recruit workers with specialized skills, with a concentration on the chemical and food industries.

 “We had the drive, the urgency and the determination, but we didn’t know how to make it a real business,” Dargis said. “I don’t think we would have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for SCORE.” 

SCORE is a nonprofit organization tied to the Small Business Administration that, free of charge, partners experienced business mentors with owners of startup, struggling or expanding businesses. Volunteer mentors such as Dennis Sester help business owners map out business plans, figure out when to expand and secure bank loans. 

Sester is a mentor for SCORE and chairman of the organization’s workshop committee. He  and another mentor helped Dargis and Wilkins set realistic goals for their company to succeed. Sester said SCORE determined right away that Dargis and Wilkins were passionate and driven enough to jump into running a business. 

Dargis and Wilkins had never set up a firm business plan before. They looked to their mentors  when it came to nailing down details such as securing funding and filing the proper tax forms. 

“Their minds were already on, ‘This is what’s missing from your business plan,’” Wilkins said. “Without thinking critically, especially in this economic climate, it’s hard to get off the ground.” 

Wilkins and Dargis have met with their mentors seven times and corresponded through email since they started their business. Not only did SCORE mentors help them put their business plans in motion, but Dargis said mentors also held them accountable and had high expectations of them, which she said pushed them to succeed. 

They continue to meet quarterly with Sester, who worked for more than 30 years as a corporate vice president with Motorola before retiring in 2002. He’s now one of 92 mentors who work out of the Fox Valley SCORE chapter, which serves DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties. The national SCORE program has 13,000 mentors, Sester said. 

“Those of us who have been active all our lives still want to keep active,” Sester said. “It’s an opportunity to help people.” 

He estimates personally mentoring 150-200 individual business owners since joining SCORE six years ago. In some cases, he helps businesses expand; in others, he helps businesses survive. He also coordinates workshops for entrepreneurs to learn the basics of running a small business. 

With the help of SCORE mentors, Dargis and Wilkins had a solid and realistic business plan in place. 

“If we hadn’t sought out that type of advice from SCORE, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Wilkins said. “We probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”

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