Fulfilling the dream of owning a business can be a difficult journey, but some entrepreneurs face more challenges than others. With perseverance and a supportive SCORE mentor, military veteran Al Kroell and his wife Christy found their path to success.

While serving in the Navy, Al Kroell suffered an accident leaving him with a severe disability. He lost the use of his hands and the military deemed him unemployable – his 20 year career was suddenly over. A few years later, his wife Christy also became disabled after a car accident. The couple struggled with finances and needed a plan desperately.

Through the hardships, Al found comfort in his hobby of scroll saw woodworking. He especially enjoyed making plaques for military friends. Then it hit him – why not turn his hobby into a business?

In order to fulfill orders on a large scale, Al needed a robotic laser engraving machine. Unfortunately, it cost thousands of dollars. The Kroells couldn’t get loans because their tax-exempt disability pay was not considered earned income.

Al exhausted military channels for help starting a business but multiple efforts led nowhere. Fellow military personnel directed him to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE. Al walked into the SBA office and met Peter Fong, his SCORE mentor and soon-to-be biggest advocate.

SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. As a resource partner of the SBA, SCORE’s network of 11,000 volunteer mentors across the country provides free, confidential business mentoring and education.

Peter guided Al through the necessary steps of starting a business – where he should go and what to do. They worked together to hammer out a solid business plan and submitted it to potential investors and banks. SCORE offered in-person and online workshops and Peter guided Al towards the sessions best suited to his needs. Peter was available anytime – nights, days and weekends – to confer with Al on his progress.

“Peter pushed me along, got me on the ball and told me what I needed to do.  The military doesn’t teach you about marketing or running a business, but my SCORE mentor did,” Al said.