A long-time defense industry engineer and executive has taken the helm at Princeton SCORE, a business group that provides education and mentoring to entrepreneurs of all stripes. Amulya Garga has taken up leadership of the group, succeeding John Biancamano, a marketing executive.

Princeton SCORE is a nonprofit group that provides one-on-one mentoring and workshops for small business owners. It also hosts webinars that can be utilized by anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. The next SCORE webinar will be presented Thursday, August 24, at 2 p.m. and will feature Stacy Kildal on creating an effective workflow. For more information, visit www.prinecton.score.org.

SCORE is staffed by volunteers and funded by the federal Small Business Administration, and has about 300 chapters nationwide.

Garga, who was previously vice chairman, says leadership of the volunteer organization changes about every two years, and that he plans to focus on customer service during his term. He plans to do that by increasing the amount of empathy in the mentoring process. “We’ve started to assess how well we are serving customers,” he says.

SCORE helps about 400 businesspeople a year, Garga says, and has started using the Net Promoter Score — a standard rating of customer satisfaction — to judge how satisfied the customers are. The scale goes from 0 to 10, and over the last year, Garga says, SCORE has gone from 6.5 to 8.

Garga has been encouraging the organization to use the SLATE system, which stands for Stop judgment, Listen, Assess the situation, Test ideas, and set Expectations and provide encouragement. “This is how we interact with all our clients,” he says. “We are espousing more empathy in our relationships with clients.”

Empathy isn’t just for creating good feelings. Garga says it actually helps solve problems. He recalls working with one client, a therapist who was planning to make a video game designed to help trauma victims. They spent a couple of month testing ideas and listening to feedback about those ideas. “It took a couple of months, but we realized that the game would really be a distraction,” Garga says. “Over time we came up with a completely different offering, which is more in the line of camps and actually setting up a practice. It helped to listen to what she was trying to achieve, and we found that the whole issue of games in therapy is very useful. But it would take her away from her mission, which was really to serve the clients with her other talents.”

By using empathy as a tool to understand the situation of the business owner and to learn her strengths and weaknesses, Garga says he was able to help her build a viable business plan. “The heart of it wasn’t for us to tell her to do this or do that. We worked through different ideas. The important thing is she is much more focused.”

Garga grew up in India, where his father was an economist with a research organization who moved to the U.S. to work for the UN as an economic adviser. Garga moved to America at age 18, and eventually earned a doctorate in engineering from Penn State and worked for the Navy on a research project that would become the Joint Strike Fighter. “It was a precursor to modern predictive analytics and smart sensors,” he says. Later he joined Lockheed Martin’s Radical Innovation Technology Center, where he worked on technology projects for defense agencies.

Over the years Garga worked on technology that has become commonplace. His predictive analytics technology is now used in helicopters to predict when engine parts will wear out and need replacement. A simpler version of this technology is used in cars, which now use embedded sensors to predict failures. Tire pressure sensors that most cars are equipped with nowadays are an even more basic example of a smart sensor.

From 2005 to 2009 Garga worked on virtual reality technology for virtual work environments in the military, which are now being used in the civilian world. “It’s been fun, but it takes 20 years for a project to become reality,” he says. “I wanted to help people directly.”

Three years ago he made a major switch to the business side of the industry, away from technical projects, starting his own consulting company. Around the same time, he got involved with SCORE.

“I discovered that mentoring was a very important part of what my core desires were,” he says.

In addition to using empathy to improve how SCORE helps businesspeople, Garga hopes to increase the group’s profile and get more people to take advantage of its services. SCORE offers more than 80 workshops a year, most of them free.

The workshops, which are listed in the Business Meetings section of U.S. 1 (see page 7), cover basics like business plans, marketing, financing, strategy, value proposition, and other topics.

The group also maintains an online library full of business advice at www.prinectonscore.org. “SCORE is one of the best-kept secrets,” he says. “I want to change that.”

SCORE also recently started a series called “meet the entrepreneur,” where successful entrepreneurs share their experiences. Garga is looking for other business owners who would be willing to come talk to the group. “We are looking for people who have a franchise, or a small coffee shop, or maybe an online business,” he says.

Garga is planning big things for SCORE during his tenure as chairman. “We’re hitting the ground running, and we have really great plans coming up,” he says.

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