Knoxville’s SCORE Chapter has highest conversion rate in the nation

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

If you’re in business, chances are you’ve heard about and maybe received help from SCORE, and Knoxville has one of the strongest chapters in the country.

We met Cliff Caudill, the local group’s Chairperson, at the “TNInventcon” one-day event in early March and were intrigued when he told us that two-thirds of his team’s clients are entrepreneurs. During a more extended conversation later, we learned a good deal more about SCORE’s Greater Knoxville Chapter.

“Knoxville has the highest conversion rate of any chapter in the country,” Caudill proudly says about the metric that refers to requests for help that actually result in a mentoring session. “Ours is 91 percent.” Why is it not 100 percent? Caudill says callers frequently leave inaccurate or incomplete contact information.

Like most of his SCORE colleagues, Caudill is a retired executive, in his case after 40 years in product marketing with John Deere Forestry. He and his wife moved to Tellico Plains area in 2015, but sitting around the house was not satisfying.

“I wanted to be doing something,” he says, adding that he was typically the first into the office and the last out at night with John Deere. “I knew about SCORE and applied to be a mentor. I wondered how my career experience might relate to the needs of small businesses.”

What Caudill says he learned is that SCORE needs expertise in a variety of areas . . . from accounting to marketing to technical. “Many times it’s not just about the business plan but also about the technology and intellectual property,” he explained.

Caudill is a data and metrics driven person, so we learned a good deal about the volume of business during our interview.

“Our intake (new clients) has been growing, reaching 50 some months last year” he said, adding that it was 65 in March 2018. For all of 2017, the SCORE Greater Knoxville Chapter reported 550 different clients and 2,020 mentoring sessions. About 40 percent of those clients are classified as long-term.

“We had 26 mentors provide 2,300 hours of mentoring during the year,” Caudill added. The top mentor recorded 760 hours, a total that was matched only if you combined the hours of the next three mentors.

Finding good mentors is always a goal of the Chair. “We have 43 certified mentors and another eight or nine working toward certification,” Caudill said. “We’re trying to become a more diverse chapter. We’d love to have more women.”

Those who apply go through a certification process that is called SLATE. It’s an acronym that describes SCORE’s eight-step mentoring process.

  • S stands for “Stop and Suspend Judgment.”
  • L refers to “Listen and Learn.”
  • A means “Assess and Analyze.”
  • T stand for “Test and Teach.”
  • E refers to “Expectation Setting and Encouraging the Dream.”

After two hours of online courses, each provisional mentor attends three sessions with a certified mentor and then leads two additional sessions with a certified mentor observing. If everything goes well, the provisional designation is changed to certified.

Caudill says SCORE encourages co-mentoring, something that is “a far richer experience for the client and more enjoyable for the mentors. Different perspectives bubble-up new ideas.”

The Greater Knoxville Chapter serves much of East Tennessee . . . from Blount, Loudon, Monroe and Roane Counties on the southern end to Cumberland County on the west and north to Tennessee’s border with Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.

Caudill underscored a collaborative relationship that we have heard previously. It involves the SCORE Greater Knoxville Chapter, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Knoxville Area Urban League, Knoxville Chamber Economic Development Programs, and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.

“Marc Brashares, my predecessor, started the process of having this group talk, and it has grown from there,” he said. “It’s really been working well.” An example of the collaboration is SCORE providing a mentor for each of the participants in the KAUL “CO.STARTERS” programs.

Those interested in learning more about the mentoring process can contact Caudill at 865-692-0716 or at

Stay connected with us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Article ideas and other suggestions should be sent to Include the name and contact information (phone and email) for follow-up.