Encore entrepreneurships make big business impact

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The youngest of the Baby Boomers have turned or will be turning 50 this year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 80 million American citizens who were born between 1946 and 1964.

One of the largest, most influential generations is reaching retirement age and, according to Elizabeth Isele, it’s creating the perfect entrepreneurial storm.

Isele is co-founder of Senior Entrepreneurship Works, which according to its website is an “entrepreneurial ecosystem in which seniors can learn first, if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.” She said retirement no longer means being idle, and many Boomers are using their maturity as a springboard to a second livelihood.

Isele will speak May 16 at UCCS’ Berger Hall as part of an Innovations in Aging Collaborative workshop titled “Encore Careers and Entrepreneurs: New Visions for the Retirement Age.” According to Beth Roalstad, Innovations in Aging Collaborative’s executive director, the recent phenomenon of Baby Boomers getting a second wind isn’t likely to blow over soon.

“I find a lot of people taking initiative in their mid-50s,” Roalstad said. “Especially since the Great Recession of 2008, there’s been this shift in view of what stable employment is and there’s been a willingness [for people] to recreate [themselves]. Maybe they’ve been downsized or laid off and long-term unemployment benefits have been suspended and they’ve had to get creative about restarting.”

Innovations in Aging Collaborative is a 501(c)3 that navigates aspects of aging including health care, transportation, education, culture, workforce engagement, recreation and wellness, Roalstad said.

Isele, a resident of Maine, not only works to assist seniors in discovering their entrepreneurial side, she also spends time in Washington, D.C., attempting to create policies that would facilitate senior startups, including modifying the process for seniors collecting unemployment.

“A senior’s chance of getting rehired if they are out of work for more than a year is less than 10 percent,” she said, adding that instead of seniors continuing to look for jobs they are not likely to land in order to collect unemployment, they should be able to invest benefits in entrepreneurship training and as seed money for new businesses without making a minimum number of job contacts.

Isele said her programs begin with an assessment of whether the interested party has the ability to launch a business.

“We have pre-workshop evaluations they take because seniors need to think carefully if they want to dedicate their lives to starting a new enterprise,” Isele said. “We want them to understand what that takes — the physical demands, mental demands, the demands in capital.”

Roalstad said there’s a growing awareness of true entrepreneurship in the country, and it doesn’t fit one stereotype.

“People think [entrepreneurship] is more accessible,” she said. “You don’t have to be like Richard Branson of Virgin Airways and branch out and do music and space.

“It’s OK for anyone to start a small business and get joy from it.”

Think small

According to research sponsored by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, 80 percent of all businesses in the country are micro-businesses with no more than two employees. The research also showed that “individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 actually make up the largest percentage of new business owners in the U.S.”

Roalstad said she realizes “not every small business is going to become a huge labor center for the community. But if it has one to five employees, it’s making a difference in our local economy.”

Isele said despite the vast majority of businesses being small, the economic impact can be substantial.

“The senior population doesn’t have to be a drain on entitlement programs,” she said. “Not if those people can be engaged and starting businesses and creating jobs.”

According to Roalstad, there are risks specific to entrepreneurial older adults, but they bring so much more to the table as far as assets when they are starting out.

“Studies have shown that older entrepreneurs are two times as successful as younger entrepreneurs because they usually bring some savings, a lower credit risk and can get investments and loans at a better rate than younger entrepreneurs,” Roalstad said. “They also bring a wealth of contacts and professional credibility, and they bring their previous work experience.”

Roalstad said Baby Boomers can minimize risks associated with startups, including beginning businesses on the side before they retire from their primary occupations.

“More than one in 10 career wage and salary workers transition into self-employment prior to exiting the workforce completely,” she said. “They are taking baby steps in starting a business before leaving.

“They may be less risk-tolerant at an older age, but they are using their experience more wisely,” Roalstad added. “A lot of the entrepreneurs I meet drop everything to pursue their dreams and are willing to fail fast and keep moving. It seems older workers are being a little more cautious.”

“A lot of entrepreneurs drop everything to pursue their dreams and are willing to fail fast and keep moving. It seems older workers are being a little more cautious.”

– Beth Roalstad

Isele said she conducted international mini-pilots for a senior entrepreneur workshop called eProv Studio. Before the official program launched in February 2014, “20 cities across the United States and 12 countries around the world wanted the program to introduce entrepreneurship.”

She said the European Union is investing millions in senior entrepreneurship programs to stimulate the economy, and the same should be done domestically.

“In Turkey, [a university faculty member] said they needed this program because the average retirement age is between 40-45 years old. There’s no way they can provide government subsidies for people who are going to live another 40 years. … In Puerto Rico, one-third of the country is over the age of 50.”

Think locally

Isele said all data point to a continuing significant increase in senior startups. Her goal is to ensure communities have the proper foundations to support them.

“We want to be sure that community support exists,” she said. “Are there lending institutions that are willing to support these startups? What sort of accelerators or incubators exist?”

Roalstad said a “wealth of knowledge” exists in the fields of defense contracting, engineering and IT, partly due to the retired military population. “Many of them decide to branch out after moving from military to formal employment,” she said.

Roalstad, also board president of the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, has witnessed more women in and around the city initiating startups.

“It’s a different story,” Roalstad said. [Women] are moving beyond some of those traditional caregiver roles and are re-engaging in work in their own way. They are redefining how they are going to apply themselves.”

Also worth noting, Roalstad said, is with 35 million seniors interested in startups, the generation positioned to benefit the most will be Baby Boomers’ successors.

“This is a huge opportunity for the young worker to buy successful businesses,” she said. “There’s three ways to end a business. You can go bankrupt, you can sell or you can pass it on to an heir.

“The opportunities that abound for the Millennials now are to purchase a business from a successful retiring older adult. They’re going to inherit customers and a product name. That will be a benefit to this community.”