Published October 01, 2020
It was June of 2012 when David, after a 30-year career with Unisys followed by 4 as a COO of a local start-up, decided to retire from the tech industry and rebrand himself as a volunteer. According to his colleagues at SCORE, the transition was quite successful. Since meeting with Jerry Francis, back in September 2012, David has devoted many hours to mentoring small business clients by sharing his big picture approach and creative problem-solving. Our records show that Dave has mentored hundreds of clients over the years and has supported three of our Award Winners since 2017. Beyond his service as a primary mentor to his clients, David has been sought out by other mentors as a Subject Matter Expert in information technology. During the COVID-19 shift to online mentoring, he recommended improvements to the SCORE self-scheduling process to make it easier for clients to set their appointments. More recently he has added webinar moderator and volunteer engagement committee member to his SCORE resume. This is why David Houseman has been selected for our Volunteer Spotlight.
Mentoring seemed like a logical transition for David, who, for many years, held advisory/counseling positions with engineering and innovation departments at universities, including Drexel, The University of Virginia, and James Madison. Tapping into his business planning, marketing, and organizational management experiences from his corporate life, David teamed up with fellow mentor John Nelson, to serve clients at the Chester County Economic Development Center. As 2012 followed the economic recession, there were times the team met with clients every week for close to 40 weeks out of the year. Of course, the cyclic nature of the economy affects the numbers of clients who need help for some years, but the client business concepts and industries they discussed are always diverse which keeps SCORE mentoring interesting. Thinking about the clients and where they start with SCORE, the new business ideas can be intriguing, the range of business knowledge varied, and individual commitment is quite different from one client to the next. There are times when John and David believe they have been successful by simply educating a client to the point they realize entrepreneurship is not for them.
The effect of the COVID pandemic has brought a new type of client seeking mentoring. David describes it as not so much business mentoring but more life coaching. Individuals signing up for video sessions are looking for guidance as to what they can do now or what opportunities are available since they find themselves out of work. Also, the need for small businesses to acquire government funding during this same period has been a priority, whether it was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). David continues to share information with clients as it becomes available.
Like other SCORE mentors, David misses the opportunity for in-person interactions. There were many times when he and John would visit clients at their place of business to understand their needs and offer guidance. From a Deli in Coatesville to a Consignment Shop in Oley to repurposing flowers in Chester County, their business models may be different, but their requirements to market to their target audiences can be similar. David believes, that between the various skill sets he and John bring to the table, they can address 80% of a client’s needs. The other 20% readily reach out to subject matter experts. They have been known to reach out to former clients who, because of their business practices, have become experts in processes or strategies. They are happy to share what they have learned.
When asked what keeps him coming back, David easily came up with two key points that make volunteering for SCORE worthwhile. First, he very much enjoys the diversity of the clients he gets to interact with regularly. Some of the new business ideas are so intriguing that David would highly recommend investing in the business, not something he can personally do as a SCORE Volunteer. Second, he appreciates the friendship he has developed working with John over the years. Not only do they have a lot in common, but their experiences also complement each other and make them a successful team.
David admits that although they have had four SCORE Small Business Award winners in consecutive years, they are not always successful. He believes clients who find success are the individuals who listen and act on the advice.
David shared a rewarding mentoring opportunity that came when he was partnered with a Cheyney University student for a business pitch competition. Over the years, the student has continued to reach out to David for business advice as he worked on his graduate thesis and most recently as he is going through a career change. If he had to list a frustration with mentoring, David would confess the lack of follow-up with clients you advise. You are often left wondering if the business went on to be successful or if the client simply gave up on their dream.
Besides mentoring, David jumped in to help moderate the SBA loan webinars in March and April, at the onset of the coronavirus crisis. It was that experience that resulted in Vic Goldberg recruiting him to serve as a moderator for the growing number of SCORE educational webinars. David also takes part in Eva Wylie’s committee looking at ways to improve volunteer engagement. His initiatives include the use of Google Groups to support mentoring needs and regular opportunities to build relationships among SCORE volunteers through scheduled events. Although the latter will require pandemic restrictions to be lifted, he believes there are great opportunities for volunteers to create lasting friendships, similar to his with John.
Believe it or not, during each tax season David also volunteers with AARP/VITA program, completing tax returns for individuals. David is also the president of Chesconet, a regional, not-for-profit Internet Service Provider for the schools, libraries, and government of Chester County. And fun fact, David is a certified, 7th-degree, Grand Master beer judge. An avid brewer, David has traveled locally and nationally to judge competitions!
Thank you, David Houseman, for all you do to help the small business community of Chester and Delaware Counties!