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Nonprofit helps local startups, small businesses

Faced with high unemployment or a desire to change, some High Desert residents are deciding to start their own businesses. Inland Empire SCORE, a national nonprofit, is helping make those dreams a reality.

Don Gillespie, a business counselor with SCORE, explains that starting a small business is a silver lining in hard economic times for some people.

“Opportunity may only come once in a lifetime,” Gillespie explains. “You have a dire situation but you can turn it around. The lemon is in the lemonade.”

Inland Empire SCORE Chapter 503 is a national nonprofit, offering free counseling services to startups and small businesses.

In March, SCORE expanded to Victorville. Gillespie along with fellow counselor Ed Lemoine now work out of the Victorville Chamber of Commerce twice a month.

According to Gillespie, the organization has helped around 20 High Desert businesses since March, but could help many more.

Michele Spears, president of the Victorville Chamber of Commerce, explained that the chamber saw a greater need for supporting small businesses because of the economy, which led to the partnership with SCORE.

According to Gillespie, the first step in the process is assessing whether someone has what it takes to start a small business.

“You really have to be prepared emotionally, mentally, vocationally,” Gillespie explains. “You just have to be everything to everyone to be a small business.”

Because the organization’s volunteers are counselors and not consultants, Gillespie said they do not do the work for clients.

“You don’t do the work, they do the work,” he said. “We help guide them through the maze of business permitting and legal structure, and funding.

After the first session, some clients decide that they are not prepared to start a business. Others will be ready to face the challenge with SCORE’s guidance.

“It’s like a parent watching their kid walk for the first time,” Gillespie says.

For Gillespie, the most rewarding part of volunteering with SCORE is seeing someone come back for their third or fourth appointment, excited because they are on their way to having a business.

No matter what kind of business counseling a client needs, SCORE is able to help because of its large pool of resources. Counselors at SCORE are all volunteers and have different kinds of business backgrounds. If Gillespie doesn’t have the necessary qualifications to help a client, he can reach out to 40 Inland Empire counselors, as well as 13,000 counselors nationwide.

“We’re constantly learning ourselves and learning from each other,” Gillespie explains.

SCORE is funded through the Small Business Administration, Congress and corporate donations, according to Gillespie.

For a face-to-face appointment, call (951) 652-4390 to schedule a counseling session with either Gillespie or Lemoine at the Victorville Chamber of Commerce, 14174 Green Tree Blvd.

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