The Green Bay SCORE chapter has been extending its reach as of late. With mentoring changes required by the coronavirus pandemic, there are more clients reaching out through SCORE's email system. One of the busiest local mentors is Paul Carron.

"While the COVID-19 virus is horrible, it has changed the way we communicate," Carron said. "As recently as February, much of what we did at Green Bay was in-person, face-to-face meetings. The virus restrictions forced us to switch to Zoom video conferencing in March." Carron, who said he was skeptical at first, found the technology was an asset that allowed mentors to cross barriers of location. He found himself advising clients from around the nation.

The clients selected Carron due to his experience as a former business owner.

"In my career, I was a partner in a manufacturing firm that made netting products," Carron said. "Those included tennis nets, volleyball nets, baseball nets, football nets and industrial netting products. The netting products lent themselves to various inventions."

His company was contacted by inventors asking for advice on the design of nets and many asked that prototypes be developed. Those experiences made him an ideal choice for Michelle Jackson, an inventor who is designing a sewn bag product in Maryland.

Jackson, who works for the Department of Defense in the human resources area, said despite having spent about 17 years in corporate environments, her desire has always been to start her own business.

"I had attempted to start various businesses through the years, but never dedicated the time to put in the work to get it off the ground," Jackson said. "So, when COVID hit, it came with lots of downtime due to building closures and extended leave time. I was able to use this time to brainstorm and think of ideas that could lead me to new business opportunities."

That led to the creation of a specialty bag.

"I saw a gap and a need that is currently not on the market and I put in a plan to develop an idea around this concept," Jackson added.

She had heard about SCORE and was familiar with the program and its benefits. She used the online database to search for a mentor who had manufacturing and intellectual property experience, and that led her to Carron.

As she works on a business plan, Carron provided advice on how to market a new product idea, manufacture it and whether it would be beneficial to file for trademark or patent protection. Jackson has also done hours of online research and believes there is a need for her product.

"I have a good grasp on my demographics and who to market my idea to," Jackson said. "My hope is that my customers will get as excited about my product as I am. My future goal is to create brand recognition with the launch of my specialty bags and eventually introduce new products and ideas to my line if I am successful."

As Jackson works on finding a manufacturer and launching a new business, Denita Isaac of Ohio is working on improving an existing child care center. She started her career as a licensed practical nurse before starting the center, which was greatly impacted by the pandemic.

"I had to close down for three months and lost two employees," Isaac said.

The Small Business Administration referred her to SCORE, and she also found Carron in the online database. Her main needs were help with financials and human resources. After talking with Carron, it was recommended that she also have a Zoom meeting with a Green Bay SCORE mentor who has extensive human resources experience.

"My next steps are to contact my mentor and send him my profit and loss statement, and then set up the human resources meeting," Isaac said. "My goals are to grow my business, and secure a solid staff that wants to grow with my company and to find health insurance for the staff at a reasonable price."

The health insurance will help her attract and keep employees. The concern going forward is that those costs, along with the already increased costs to hire a professional cleaning service due to new sanitation requirements, will make it difficult to turn a profit.

Carron said these clients represent just a few of those all around the nation who are struggling with the new normal. Not only has SCORE changed the way it mentors, countless hours have been spent helping clients apply for relief programs. As those calls have lessened, there is a desire to look toward the future.

"The year 2020 is turning out to be a very bad time, and we still have four months to go," Carron said. "But while there will be suffering in the short term, I am confident the country will recover."

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

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Paul Carron