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Business Spotlight:Help for fledgling businesses

SCORE counselors offer advice gleaned from their own successful work backgrounds.

June 18, 2007|By Ryan Vaillancourt

Richard S. Erbe wants potential inventors and business owners to keep their entrepreneurial ideas to themselves — at least until they get a patent or copyright.

Erbe, a practicing patent attorney and former counsel with the Walt Disney Co., leads a workshop called "Promoting and Protecting Your Invention" once a month for aspiring entrepreneurs in the area. The seminar is one of about a dozen monthly workshops hosted by SCORE Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization with a branch in Glendale that is run mostly by retired executives.

"Working with small companies and first-time business owners, I find that they're out in a tricky landscape," Erbe said. "This is a way that I think I can help them overcome a lot of misconceptions and not get tripped up."

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Some of the advice issued by Erbe during his workshops may seem obvious, but patent law can be quite a roadblock to new business leaders if they're not educated in the area, he said.

"You need to be very careful about what you tell to whom," he told a group of seven. "And never let anyone do any work for you for free."

Like all of the two-hour monthly SCORE workshop's, Erbe's seminar costs $25.

It's a small price to pay for attendees like Karen Carlson, who get access to seasoned experts like Erbe at a fraction of the cost that they might charge clients, Carlson said.

"It's great because it really educates me and really kind of inspires me to continue on in my business," she said.

Carlson has been in and out of the SCORE office at 330 N. Brand Blvd. for the better portion of the past year seeking advice as her fledgling independent television production company has gotten off the ground, she said.

First, it was a day-long workshop called "Starting Your Own Business," and on Wednesday, it was the session on patents.

"I know how to do TV," Carlson said. "But I don't know how to do these other things."

In addition to the workshops, the business-curious can stop into the SCORE office on any given day and get free counseling from a host of experienced business experts like Stan Liebling.

At 90-years-old, Liebling, the former marketing director of toy titan Mattel, is one of the most experienced counselors available.

Propelling a start-up company into a successful business requires effective marketing, a notion that some young entrepreneurs have trouble grasping, Liebling said.

"I just met with a young man who is doing a technology business and he's a great technician, but not a salesman," he said. "If you can't sell it, who cares how good a technician you are."

The fact that counselors like Erbe and Liebling, who each boast elite résumés in their field, offer their service on a volunteer basis means that they're in it just to help, said Harry Dictor, a former real estate developer who has served as a SCORE counselor for 19 years.

"Honest to Pete, when I started I wanted to try something new but I had no idea I would hang around this long," Dictor said. "But it was just such a turn on, working with people. I love it."

Carlson, who credits SCORE for helping her new business take off, is sure glad Dictor and his longtime colleagues are still there.

"I would rather move back in with my parents than ever go back to working for somebody," she said.

For more information, visit scorela.org.

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