Organization: Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
Services: SBDCs offer free counseling, with access to training programs and information resources.
The scoop: SBDC counselors are located at 970 centers across the country, 48 of which are on college campuses. The centers offer "nuts and bolts, A to Z" mentoring, according to Kathleen Kelley, director of membership services at the Association of Small Business Development Centers, in Arlington, Va.
Phone: 703-271-8700 (for the national organization)
Organization: The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC)
Services: The ICIC studies and fosters entrepreneurship in urban neighborhoods. Its Inner City Advisors program provides a variety of mentoring and advisory services for free. One arm of the program matches business owners with teams of local M.B.A. students and professors.
The scoop: The ICIC is the brainchild of Harvard Business School guru Michael Porter. Though it currently operates in just four cities (Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City, and Oakland), it is expanding. And the ICIC offers referrals, maintaining a list of like-minded programs (most of them affiliated with universities) in about 20 different states.
Organization: National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
Services: The free NAWBO mentor program pairs a woman entrepreneur with a NAWBO member who has experience running a company. NAWBO provides members with an array of benefits including national networking and discounts from corporate sponsors like IBM and AT& T.
The scoop: Terry Neese, an Oklahoma business owner and a past president of NAWBO, participated in the program herself. "What the program did for me was make me reevaluate what my company was doing and look for ways to make it better," she says.
Services: Silver Foxes provide long-term mentoring and also put together ad hoc advisory boards and offer short-term consulting services. Initial interviews are free, but an hourly fee (of $45 to $145) is assessed after the first meeting.
The scoop: "We make sure you water your plants," adviser Tom Gillis says. "It's a continued relationship--we stay long enough so that the plans and suggestions we come up with are carried out."
Services: Menttium offers formal, one-to-one mentoring, group mentoring, and other training programs.
The scoop: Menttium tends to deal with corporate types, more so than the other programs, but it has several initiatives, which, says spokesperson Susan Eilertson, "a mix of companies--both large and small--find relevant." The Menttium 100, for example, is offered in six cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. It pairs women in business with senior executives at other companies, in the hopes of helping women advance.
Organization: Center to Develop Entrepreneurs (CDE) at San Jose State University
Services: The CDE helps people start businesses in and around Silicon Valley. Particular attention is paid to women, minorities, and "mom and pop" businesses. The center provides one-to-one mentoring or "coaching," as well as distance learning. It also uses multimedia teaching tools.
The scoop: Founded as the Center for Women Entrepreneurs in 1993, the CDE has branched out in terms of the constituencies it serves.
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman