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Entrepreneurship can be rewarding work

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Dear Readers:

I recently participated in a conference on a subject that just doesn’t go away – employment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those 55 and older increased from 5.9 percent in February to 6.2 percent in March. That is below the U.S. unemployment rate for all ages, which is 8.2 percent.

It may sound like good news for older adults that their unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Yet we know they have a shorter time to make up for losses from their investments, that it takes them longer than younger folks to find a job, that many are underemployed, and that some have given up looking for work altogether.

Entrepreneurship may be a viable option.

Typically, we have thought of entrepreneurship as an endeavor for the young. Statistics prove otherwise. Over the past decade, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity belongs to those in the 55 to 64 age group, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

“There is no age requirement for innovation,” writes Vivek Sadhwa in the MIT publication Technology Review. “Ideas are a dime a dozen . The value comes from translating ideas into inventions and inventions into successful ventures.”

Sadhwa notes that to do this, one has to collaborate with others, get financing, understand the marketplace, price products, develop distribution channels and deal with rejection and failure. These require business and management

skills that come with maturity, education, experience and yes – age.
The free conference I attended was called “Spotlight on Entrepreneurship: Opportunities for Baby Boomers,” sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, AARP, the Center for Productive Longevity and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

About 100 people attended, and their reasons varied. Some turned to self-employment as their last hope for work. Others were employed, looking to do something they always wanted to do, particularly in retirement. Others wanted to position themselves so they could never be fired, while several were already entrepreneurs and wanted to grow their businesses.

I led a session on the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship. Here is a partial summary of what my group identified and discussed:

Motivations/rewards of entrepreneurship: having a flexible schedule, making a difference in something that is important to you, monetary gain, being engaged and fulfilled, meeting a challenge, working on your own terms, avoiding age discrimination in employment, maintaining a family tradition, and sharing expertise with others.

Obstacles/risks of entrepreneurship: fear of failure, stiff competition, losing one’s savings, not knowing where to begin, loneliness, the burden of individual responsibility, having boring work, and losing one’s health benefits from previous employment.

The good news is the group came up with ways to mitigate the risks.

For example, to overcome the fear of stiff competition, do your homework and conduct a thorough competitive analysis. To combat loneliness, become active in professional and business groups.

I also led a group on creating a vision statement as part of the planning process for a new business. Attendees presented their vision and ideas. What became evident was that personal experiences influenced their drive and passion to create a business that had meaning for them.

Here are a few examples:

• A man noticed that his older neighbor had not picked up her newspaper for days. He went to her front door and found it locked. The woman had locked herself in her home and refused to leave because she was afraid of falling. Why? Her front porch was broken. This man promptly repaired it. As a result he launched “Home Doctor,” a service of plumbing and repairs that allows older adults to stay in their homes with less worry.

• As a child, a woman frequently played with her girlfriend in her girlfriend’s room; the room was tiny. Each time they played, she rearranged her friend’s furniture to make space for the dolls, carriages and other toys. Her friend’s mother loved the new arrangement and asked her to rearrange other rooms in her home. This woman has launched an interior design company. She said, “I feel design.”

• And then there was the professional mime who said, “I really love to talk and therefore was not a very good mime.” He launched a business called Quiet Talk that focused on the impact of nonverbal behavior.

Passion about something was expressed by all – an essential element to entrepreneurship.

Next week I’ll provide tips for entrepreneurs in the second half of life.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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