Guest Blog: Entrepreneurship in Later Life, When Markets Are Ripe

By Mark Venning

Entrepreneurship in later life. At the risk of being prescriptive by way of writing a textbook definition of this venture, or you might say – adventure, I did learn early on that this movement would have legs as time went on. Gathering evidence of this, working directly in the front lines of the career development field since the mid-90’s, with a focus on entrepreneurship, it has been a privilege to help and encourage others to fulfill their goals while at the same time being realistic with people about keeping a healthy perspective on the challenges – reality bites as it were.

Let us not over inflate the trend bubble on this, the notion that suggests that legions of people over age 50 are breaking free to start and run a business, for it is not all it will turn out to be. From what I have observed, working with clients exploring this option, and for those who do it, the journey is often episodic in nature, and in addition to that, there are multiple variations of how people actually describe, design and construct their entrepreneurial story.

We must begin this discussion with understanding the motivations. Why do people in this rather large age zone (over 50), even want to consider this? As I often ask first, where are you on a scale from being – 1 (curious) to 5 (exploring) to 10 (real intent)? Not surprisingly, given the profile segmentations of the over 50’s, the responses tend to land somewhere in the middle.

What are those motivations?

Depending on the person’s situation at a given life stage, more than the actual age itself, the top responses are variations on three lines of thought:

  • can’t afford to retire, need/desire to supplement financial plans with earned income
  • too young to retire, need/desire to stay challenged or engaged
  • be my own boss, want flexibility, tired of working in the corporate environment

However, behind these statements, quite often there is a harboured wish to continue to look for a traditional job, hence the episodic nature of some entrepreneurial ventures. For example, it is not untypical for those who take the route of independent consulting to take on a full time position offered by a business client, and after a few years wander back to independence.

Probing people further in conversation, it turns out in many cases, that the word entrepreneurship sits very weighty on their minds, but when you turn it into a discussion of possibilities around “a range of self-employment options”, the explorer becomes more open minded.

What are those possibilities?

To start, I am keen to find out what ideas people already have in their heads. Sometimes several, though not always fully developed, these ideas fall under three general categories:

  • market my own expertise as an independent consultant or contractor
  • start a home based, web based business – product, service or craft
  • start a business or buy a franchise, build it to sell in a number of years

With the next two-part question: what is your specific business idea and to what extent have you determined that there is an obtainable market for it? …the answer is, “it’s a work in progress”.

Is there an obtainable market for you? That is a pretzel shaped question. On one twist, what differentiation, value and relevance to you bring to a given market, and the other twist is, what is the gap or unmet need in a market that you know you can serve?

While in discussions stemming from this question, I find that there are those who have little patience for the market research process and an under estimation of the ramp up period or timelines to get a business off and running. This is also accompanied by an under estimated realization that continuous life transitions as we age will require frequent recalibrations of business and personal goals.

Now there is another way forward where the possibilities can be several, simultaneously or sequentially, lived in the form of a portfolio of income streams. Interest or intent increases here as most people I have met, “explorers” of entrepreneurship in later life, have seen the merit in this model, because it can be modified over a longer period of later life stages. In that sense, this is a flexible, fluid from of self-employment, regenerative in process.

Enterprisers at any age

To re-frame this picture of entrepreneurship over the next decade, at whatever age we are, as market needs shift and traditional employment systems continue to reconstruct, it will require the curious, creative and collaborative mind-set of an enterpriser. We are all next decade enterprisers, and in a human service economy, there will be more need for social enterprisers at the same time as a renaissance for micro businesses, networked alliances & independent wide achievers, who like a da Vinci, learn to re-apply their talents to where the work meets the need.

Often spiffed up for marketing purposes by language like “seniorpreneur” or “boomerprenur”, we should note, that while entrepreneurial activity may have increased in this over 50 age group, the overall self-employment rate in Canada over the last several years has stayed constant at around 15.5 percent. At the same time with the continuum of demographic shifts in mind, the so named “generation X” is now entering their early 50’s and I don’t think they see themselves as seniors.

As we move into the next decade there is no reason to suspect that the exploration or intent level will diminish when it comes to entrepreneurship in later life, but two things will need to happen.

First, a healthier resource system to educate and support people will need to surface, one that demystifies the concept of entrepreneurship and makes it less about age and more about marketability. Second, more research is needed to understand the motivations, options, patterns and cycles of entrepreneurship or self-employment over a person’s life course.

__________________________________________________________________________________ Mark Venning works primarily with non-profit & business leaders offering insights and direction on the Business & Social Aspects of Aging Demographics and helps organizations adapt their thinking to meet the challenges of “recoding a longevity society” which include designing age inclusive communities and creating opportunities for inter-generational collaboration with an enterprising mind-set. www.changerangers.com

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Guest Blog: Changing Patterns of Business Startups

By Adele Robertson

from-jane_4-2-oa140 years ago, the average life span in the Western world was 45 years old. In 2016, many Canadians can look forward to adding forty more years to that average. The question of leaving full time wage work at the typical “retirement” age of 65 is being scrutinized. 65 is the ‘new’ 75 or, even 80!

Today, even the word RETIRE is on the brink itself of being retired. The idea of a continued career, an encore career, finding other means of activity which generate income, is quickly being embraced by the boomer cohort. Why is this? Doesn’t the picture of the sunshine years, the endless golf games, and freedom 55 resonate with most people? Clearly not, should we believe many latest studies and, statistics.

One answer comes from a new book by Chris Farrell called “UNRETIREMENT, How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life”. Older people are starting businesses more than any other age group. The over 50’s often have a number of competitive advantages in the marketplace. Consider also the great lure of self employment; allowing for flexibility and control over your life…you are the boss!

There are myriad reasons for this economic and social turnabout. Obviously, one compelling factor is the wonderful health many enjoy. The US Center for Disease Control projects that the boomer group, (generally thought of as those born between 1948 and 1964), have an 84% average of “excellent health”. If you are healthy, why would you wish to settle down on the porch in the rocking chair?

The economic realities of the 21st Century translate into financial need for many individuals. They simply must continue to generate an income. 68% of Canadians will have no pension. Some individuals still have pensions that that income is insufficient to cover their normal and desired lifestyle. Even if there is not a pressing financial need, there is the reality of what to do with one’s time when your lifetime career ends. There are 2000 hours a year to fill when that job has ended. As well, changes in corporations often translate into downsizing leaving numerous people over 50 without a job.

Although Canadian statistics are quite difficult to isolate, the 2012 Stats Canada census determined that 49% of new Canadian businesses were started by people over the age of 50. Society is giving birth to a new phenomena: SENIORPRENEURISM. It is also known that this business demographic has doubled in recent years. When one realizes that small and medium business enterprises generate 97% of the economy, Seniorpreneurs are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

“A greater number of older workers may be self-employed in the future because the baby boomers will reach retirement with considerably more wealth and education than prior cohorts:, writes Rand Corporation economists. A Kauffmann Foundation report provides additional rationale for the rise in seniorpreneuers. Quite simply, older workers have skills, wisdom, experience, credibility, and key to many endeavours, they have developed superb networks. The various new technologies, notably the Internet and small business software, lower start up costs considerable. As well, those experienced workers desire to continue employment but they demand greater autonomy and flexibility. All of this can be obtained when you launch your own business.

Many individuals will relish the idea of an encore career which is self driven. At the same time, a cautionary tale suggests that older workers understand their motivations, their values and, their ability to absorb risk. Those risk avoidance individuals would be wise not to invest all their savings in a new venture, at an older age.

It is exciting that so many former seniors are retiring the world retire as they embark on often unique and innovative roles in their third life stage.

The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research is in an ideal position to be both a sounding board for would be seniorpreneuers and possibly, a physical and digital hub for cross current exchanges and programmes. We are currently, with the help of Sheridan student, Luisa Cardoza, carrying out preliminary research on the state of Canadian olderpreneurs. It is clear there is a vacuum in data and comprehensive research on the state of this activity in Canada. Much, much more is required to determine next steps. It is clear that substantial studies are in order and we plan to do just that in the near future.

____________________________________________________________________________ Adele Robertson is the CEO and Founder of V Generation and a Sheridan Centre for Elder Research advisory board member.

Business of Aging: Aging Simulation Suits

Aging simulation suits are becoming more popular because they can be used to emulate the physical and sensory limitations that may be experienced by individuals as they age. This allows the user to gain a better understanding of how aging may affect an older adult’s ability to successfully navigate their physical environment and perceive their physical surroundings. When used in a structured way by business owners, this insight can help them dispel their assumptions about aging to develop better products and services for older adults.

safe_image.phpWhen we consider the physiological changes that most commonly occur with increasing age (e.g. sensory impairments, reduced mobility, decreased strength, etc.), it is easy to imagine how the suit can be used to evaluate existing environments. An article entitled As Baby Boomers Age, Is Architecture Failing Them highlights how one architecture firm uses aging simulation suits to ensure that an aging population can successfully negotiate the commercial buildings they design. By focusing on how ‘baby boomers interact with buildings’, the firm was able to identify specific design elements that needed improvement such as ‘lengthening the landings on escalators to allow [the] user to regain balance’.

Another practical use of aging simulation suits is the Working With Seniors: A Primer for Health Care Providers program at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in partnership with Baycrest. This program provides healthcare students with simulation experiences to gain ‘first-hand perspectives and experiences of the challenges that seniors often encounter during medical appointments’.

When used strategically, aging simulation suits are effective tools that enable users to consider ways of making environments more accessible for older adults. It is, however, vitally important to remember that not all older adults age in the same way and that the changes simulated with the suits are not indicative of the challenges faced by all older adults. This is why the upcoming Business of Aging Global Network Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) chapter meeting, hosted by the Centre for Elder Research, will feature a tailored experiential workshop that not only uses aging simulation suits, but also explores participants’ beliefs and attitudes about aging. (See flyer for details.) The simulation, when paired with the introspective exercises, can help users make the best use of aging simulation suits, improving their products and services for individuals of all ages and abilities.

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Business of Aging: The Growing Phenomena of Seniorpreneurs

As we mentioned in a previous blog, a seniorpreneur is an older adult who creates a new business that usually takes advantage of their extensive work experience, well-established networks, and desire to remain engaged. Often older adult entrepreneurs are able to recognize a need and create innovative solutions based on their years of life experience.

An article entitled Late Bloomers: These Entrepreneurs are Tapping a Lifetime of experience in their business, highlights the stories of ten seniorpreneurs who draw
on a lifetime of experiences to create successful businesses. For example, entrepreneur Pete Decomo shares that “The Vietnam experience taught me to handle stress in a way that most people never experience. To this day, when I feel a little stressed in my startup role, I say to myself you handled that, you can handle this.” Their stories are all different but what they all seem to have in common is good business acumen and the willingness to “go for it”.

Join us at the next Business of Aging: Information Exchange Network (BA:IEN) meeting on Wednesday, April 27, for a conversation about the Centre’s Seniorpreneurship Think Tank. See flyer for details.

BAIEN mtg Apr_27_16