SCORE Business Mentorships Fuel Successful Lakeland Entrepreneurs

By Adam Spafford

The journey from vision to success is daunting for any endeavor of value—especially so for entrepreneurial ventures. There are guaranteed costs but no guaranteed profits. The product might be stellar but what about the critical skills of marketing, networking, accounting and management? Will this even meet the needs of the marketplace?

Fortunately for Lakelanders, the city is brimming with entrepreneurs whose successes—and failures—act as guideposts for a new generation. Many of those business veterans serve budding entrepreneurs by volunteering through SCORE Central Florida, a professional mentorship organization and Lakeland Chamber Small Business Resource partner.

SCORE was founded in 1964 by the US. Small Business Administration to empower entrepreneurs. Today, it operates more than 300 chapters across the country, providing expert guidance from seasoned mentors who have already traversed the challenging path to success. Lakeland chapter Co-Chair Becky Bywater has helped entrepreneurs for more than 16 years by connecting them with mentors and hosting roundtables, workshops, and—more recently—events co-sponsored by local businesses.

We have over 20 mentors offering their expertise free of charge. We serve over 1,000 entrepreneurs a year—about half of which are directly mentored and the other who attend our events where guest speakers share valuable entrepreneurial insights,” says Bywater.

The events are provided at either no or very low cost—perhaps $10. “Lakeland has so many up-and-coming businesses,” Bywater continues, “that co-sponsored events—such as one we facilitated at COHatch this spring—have really become a popular way to serve the community. We partnered with a healthcare provider in March for Women’s National History Month. This August SCORE and the Central Florida Business Diversity Council will host an SBA representative’s presentation for finding ways to fund new and growing businesses.”

When an entrepreneur contacts SCORE through the website and provides some very basic information, Bywater and her fellow volunteers get to work connecting the prospective mentee with an experienced professional who can offer personalized guidance tailored to the mentee’s needs. Bywater mentioned a mentor attorney who helps SCORE entrepreneurs structure their business appropriately. He can then refer these mentees to other SCORE volunteers who can assist with accounting, IT, and so on. But SCORE has assistance for more than just the nascent venture; there are robust resources for every business stage: Plan + Start, Manage + Grow, and Transition + Exit.

SCORE’s website offers additional resources to enrich entrepreneurs. Recorded webinars led by industry experts, educational courses, a startup roadmap, and even business reporting templates are available with just a few clicks. It’s all driven by SCORE’s mission to “foster vibrant small business communities through mentoring and education.”

There are big things in store for SCORE Central Florida. The Empower Women in Business Symposium is scheduled to be held at Catapult in September. There are just 70 seats available that sell out each year. In mid-2024, SCORE will move from its own offices in Downtown into the Lakeland Chamber building. And of course, until then it will be hard at work fostering a vibrant small business community in our city.

To find a mentor or become one, visit