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Call SCORE for free advice from retirees

Mentors in their 60s

Close to 13,000 volunteer mentors work with SCORE's 354 chapters around the country. Founded in 1964 as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE operates with a $7 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The individual and online counseling is free, though SCORE charges nominal fees for workshops and seminars.

SCORE helped start 68,000 businesses in 2009, said W. Kenneth Yancey Jr., the organization's chief executive.

The work is often intergenerational. Only about one in four of SCORE's clients is 55 or older, but the average age for mentors is low to mid-60s.

"What our clients are doing is recareering," Yancey said. "They're having encore careers after they've finished their primary careers. We see individuals later in their careers starting businesses on the side. They might start a rental property company or a consulting firm or buy a franchise."

'A remarkable time to start a business'

Entrepreneurs need all the help they can get — the odds of long-term viability in a small business are daunting. The Small Business Administration says half of all new businesses fail in five years.

And yet, Yancey said, "a significant number of Fortune 500 companies started in recessionary times. This can be a remarkable time to start a business," especially in markets where service industry companies have folded, creating space and need for new ones.

SCORE doesn't keep track of the five-year survival rate of its clients' businesses. But it has success in getting them started.

Before linking up with SCORE, surveys show, about a third of its clients were considering starting a business, a third were in the process of starting one and a third were actually in business. After completing SCORE's mentoring program, roughly two-thirds were in business.

The first six quarters are the most difficult for a new business, Yancey said. "We help people assess the feasibility of their idea. Can they not only survive but succeed? We help them with an overall plan so they have a good idea what to expect."

The SBA also offers help for new businesses at more than 900 Small Business Development Centers around the country (plus hundreds of subcenters on college campuses) and 100 Women's Business Development Centers. The Commerce Department, meanwhile, has 43 Minority Business Development Centers nationwide.

Dorothy Kennett of Bloomington, Ill., a former elementary school teacher, school media librarian and children's bookstore owner, took early retirement from Illinois State University in 1991 after suffering a stroke. During her convalescence, she traveled to South Africa with her son, and there she saw students who were both undereducated and lacking in books.

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