We all know that Americans are living and working longer. According to AARP, only 13 percent of Americans expect not to return to work after they hit “traditional retirement age.” But just as Americans are able and wanting to work longer — the recession has left many aging adults out of work. And those older adults are having a harder time returning to work than their younger counterparts, says the Government Accountability Office.
After being unable to find employment in early education management, Joyce Goodwin, 56, started the Granite Start Early Learning Center in Nashua, which now has 70 children and 10 staff members. “My age was prohibitive in some of the jobs that may have been available,” she says. She considered buying an early learning franchise, but didn’t like being pigeon-holed into educational principles she didn’t believe in. Starting her own business seemed like the only option.
Goodwin is one of many older adults who, unable to find employment in the down economy, decide to strike out on their own, says Mary Collins, State Director of New Hampshire’s Small Business Development Center. “Finding capital is the difficult part,” Collins says. But, she says, regardless of age, if investors are convinced they’ll see a return, they’ll invest. “We see entrepreneurs well into their 70s, even 80s.”
According to the Kauffman Foundation’s Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the rate of entrepreneurship among adults between 55 and 64 has increased by 50 percent since 1996 – with a steeper increase after the recession.
“There are always people that are looking to start a business at the end of their career,” says Hugh Curley at the New Hampshire district office of the SBA. “What we are seeing now is more people doing it out of some form of necessity.” Curley and his boss at the SBA, Greta Johannson, are collaborating with the AARP New Hampshire to connect with seniors interested in entrepreneurialism.
Second-, third-, or fourth-career business owners can offer a lot to the workforce, Johansson says. “We’re talking about a segment of the population that has had a lot of time to learn a lot of things, and who are at a time when other life distractions can be reduced. They are not raising children, but are young enough to be very active and mobile.”
But, Johansson’s colleague Hugh Curley warns, new entrepreneurs don’t always know the resources they have available to help them. He worries about people who use services to invest their 401(k)s in their business – taking on a lot of risk without understanding the possible consequences.
Even Paul Bemis, who has worked as a senior executive at computer companies like Hewlett Packard and Apollo Computing, says starting a company at an older age is daunting. By the time he bought a software product from his employer and began developing it on his own, his family was accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle his management salaries had afforded. “[I] risked all of the savings I had,” Bremis says, “all the eggs in one basket. So it was either succeed, or end up with nothing.” For the first time in his life, Bremis says, he experienced fear and self-doubt. On top of that, his friends were still buying flashy new cars, while for the first time in his career, he couldn’t afford one. Bremis says one thing he learned? “You have to be willing to swallow your pride.”