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.
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.
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.