Why aren’t there more boomer entrepreneurs?

Betty Wong of New York City might be on to something. She found that she had lots of baby boomer friends who were tired of being underemployed, or who faced ageism. Although it was a process, eventually she co-founded an organization to help them, by teaching them how to start their own businesses instead of depending on others.

Some of the most famous companies in America were created by entrepreneurs who started at age 45 or older – Charles Flint started IBM at 61, McDonalds founder Ray Kroc bought his first franchise in his early 50s before he bought the whole small chain from the McDonald brothers at 60.

Bill Porter started Etrade at 54, John Pemberton started Coca-Cola at 55, Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65, Ruth Fertel started Ruth’s Chris Steak House at 49, and Mary Kay Ash started Mary Kay at 45. Another famous female entrepreneur was Grandma Moses, who started her painting career at 76 and painted till she was 100.

Betty Wong (center in red dress) with her entrepreneur colleagues.

So today, why aren’t there more boomer entrepreneurs? The Wall Street Journal reports, “Retirees Grow, Workforce Shrinks in Strain for U.S,” saying that “The surge of retiring baby boomers is reshaping the U.S. into a country with fewer workers to support the elderly — a shift that will add to strains on retirement programs.”

Boomers have knowledge, experience, contacts, and resources. “What they lack is startup information, motivation, and support,” says Elizabeth Isele, Founder (at 70) of SeniorEntrepreneurshipWorks.com.

When I called contacts who monitor entrepreneurship in the U.S. at the Kauffman Foundation, at universities, even at SCORE and AARP, I discovered there are few programs in the U.S. to help move boomers toward entrepreneurship. Most startup programs were focused on inspiring millennials or people from low-income communities.

What about the middle class? When I mentioned creating a nonprofit to help middle-class people become entrepreneurs, one lawyer I talked to laughed! But when you look at the projections for people living longer — into their 90s and 100s — and some people, especially women, with inadequate savings for such long lives, it really isn’t a laughing matter. Studies also show older entrepreneurship has positive health impact.

Betty Wong

As a business school alumna from the 1980s, I can’t remember any entrepreneurship classes being offered. That generation — my generation — was taught to worship “Corporate America,” not to create “Startup America.”

The idea for Stage2Startups was partially inspired by my co-founder, Tony Palladino. We met because he renounced his retirement and I was looking for an advisor for my own startup, a business promoting American companies and colleges to international/Chinese students and their parents. Tony soon became a business partner, but our timing was wrong. Frustrated by the challenges of trying to get money out of China, we decided to look elsewhere for business ideas. Newly re-focused on American lifestyles and with an interest in social impact opportunities, we started an exploration into a different type of entrepreneur.

Stage2Startups.org was created to help experienced workers become entrepreneurs. It has offered numerous events in New York City and recently started offering workshops addressing key issues desired by entrepreneurs, such as ideation, funding, and partners. More importantly, we are also addressing a need for a social, supportive, and motivational community that focuses on older entrepreneurs while it teaches entrepreneurs of different generations how to interact with each other. Our signature panel events highlight transitions from corporate employees to second career founders, such as …

  • the former insurance company CIO who leads a data analytics company
  • the former magazine editor who is a successful novelist
  • an ex-finance executive who sells salsa sauce in Whole Foods
  • a former consumer products marketer who now runs a school.

We found our events were being attended by people who had MBAs and other advanced degrees. “Our hosts included university entrepreneurship and career management centers, accelerators, and co-working spaces. Recently we were told we even inspired an organization to start in Brazil, helping American homeless people give English lessons to Brazilians.

It’s never too late to start a company and you can find help, motivation and resources if you look for them.

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6 Comments

  1. I read your article and applaud what you’re doing but do you only attract MBS grads and people with advanced degrees who had senior positions in American companies?? What about those with no college/ university degree? What about those with little or no money to fund their business

    I’ve been self employed since 1980 when I was 30 and had several different businesses since then- I’ve also coached 100s of startup/ small business owners in that time.

    A few years ago I wrote and published on my website an ecourse called “How to Start a Service Business on a Shoestring”. I’m currently editing it add adding slides to make it an online course on udemy.

    My idea is to take my years of knowledge and send it to a large audience. My hope is that many boomers who don’t have the energy or money to start a “bricks and mortar” business will opt to start a service business 🙂

    1. Hi Trudy,
      Thanks for your feedback. We offer our programs to a wide variety of entrepreneurs, some with advanced degrees and some still students in colleges. I think there are plenty of government programs focusing on people with no degrees and people in low-income communities. We’re specifically helping people who have had a career, because they are often the people who feel there are no programs for them. We don’t operate in a vacuum because we identify resources on our site, including links to SCORE, AARP, SBA, programs at NYC Small Business. When your new course is ready, email me at betty@stage2startups.org and we’ll consider it for our site updates. Any resource to help boomers is fine with us!

  2. As a novelist, I’m an entrepreneur, and have embraced DIY publishing. It’s been a great ride, and I get to decide when my work is ready for prime time.

    I learned graphics to do my own covers, formatting, and editing. And I can write about characters who are not all under 30.

    Writers support each other online without asking how old we are – I’ve learned from people of all ages. Still working on building a readership base, but have had readers from teen girls to older men. I write mainstream fiction, and take my time to get it right.

    What’s not to love?

    1. Absolutely agree, Alicia. I worked in marketing for about thirty years but wanted to be a writer. Throughout my career, before going into the office, I set aside an hour or so for that pursuit. Then, two years ago, a bad car wreck forced me to close my business and I took up writing full time. My first novel was published by a small traditional press a few months ago and I learned a lot going through that process. Authors are true entrepreneurs responsible for their own destiny: research, writing, editing, pitching, publishing, promoting—all while seeking out a sensible revenue model beyond that of an expensive hobby. It’s a very competitive market in which, to be successful monetarily, one must carve out a meaningful and memorable space for oneself.

      But, as you’ve said “What’s not to love?”

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