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Peer-to-peer mentoring groups like Vistage are probably effective but also not accessible to all business leaders.
An organization with a new chapter in Buffalo is setting out to change that.
Entrepreneurs Forever has hired former Buffalo Bills defensive back Marlon Kerner as its first community director, with the goal of establishing peer groups of small business entrepreneurs. Technically the participating business leaders can be based anywhere – Kerner said he would focus on the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions.
Kerner played in the National Football League from 1995 to 1998. He rejoined the Bills as a staff member in 2015 and served most recently as its director of player engagement and alumni. As his contract ended, he earned a master’s degree in strategic leadership from St. Bonaventure University.
He was hired this summer at Entrepreneurs Forever, a program created by the Mansmann Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit.
“In my role with the Bills I was always trying to connect players with the right resources and give them a support structure that allowed them to be successful on the field,” Kerner said. “This plays into something I’m passionate about, only now instead of players it’s small business owners. I want to help them grow and scale their business.”
Entrepreneurs Forever will partner with Entrepreneurship for All, a separate organization that also recently launched in Buffalo. While EforAll focuses on businesses at their earliest stages, Kerner’s project targets small businesses that have been in existence for more than a year and have surpassed $35,000 in annual revenue.
Kerner will create 10-12 person networks consisting of business leaders who will meet regularly and be provided with mentorship and resources. He is building out the first cohort of business leaders, with the goal of launching the group in November. The program is free for participants.
“A lot of small business owners, especially in Western New York, have built something strong but don’t know what’s next,” Kerner said. “We want to help you grow and scale the business by focusing on seven key skills that are proven to help business owner take the next step.”
Kerner said he can be reached via email at [email protected]. His program will model successful Entrepreneurs Forever operations in Pittsburgh and Massachusetts. 
“What’s exciting for us about going to Western New York is that, together with EforAll, as a partnership we’re able to make such a meaningful impact on the small business community,” said Roya Kousari, director of marketing and communications at Entrepreneurs Forever. “The peer network model has proven to be successful and proven to have an impact. But it’s also not accessible to everyone. We want to change that.”
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