When one thinks about the concept of entrepreneur, it typically conjure images of a young to middle aged person. Typically full of life, energy, vigor, and enthusiasm to tackle some problem in a way the world has never seen before. We picture youth as the ideal quality for chasing after dreams that may require strenuous hours, piles of work, and loads of stress. However, we may be letting our age-ist bias get in the way of the truth. Today’s seniors are as restless, if not more, to create their own businesses.
In fact, recent research from the Metlife foundation documents that some 34 million baby boomers want to start their own business. In a 2013 study conducted by a United Kingdom based Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the results showed that seniors were the most entrepreneurial age group. Plus, when you look at who currently owns the most businesses in the United States, it’s seniors that own them at a higher rate than any other age demographic.
The Rise of Senior Entrepreneurs
There are a multitude of reasons for why seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of entrepreneurs in the world. As opposed to younger entrepreneurs, seniors have the wealth of life experiences they’ve undergone, broader networks of people built up over time, plus they may have more financial stability compared to those on the youngest end of the scale.
One way to measure the rise of senior entrepreneurship is using the GEM study of TEA, or Total Entrepreneurial Activity, which covers a broad range of entrepreneurial activities within the UNited States. Research revealed that self-employment rates rose increasingly with age, and that the overall TEA rate was 11.8 percent for 55-64 year olds, and 18.4 percent for those 65+. More than half of all small business owners in the United States are age 50 or over, and the highest rate of business start-up activity over the past decade has been among people in the 55 to 64 age bracket.
This rise in senior entrepreneurship is also playing an important role in creating a healthier population of elderly in the world. There is evidence that older people who remain engaged physically and mentally tend to stay healthier and live longer. Plus, by being self-sufficient they are not putting demand on social services or entitlement programs.
While seniors already make up a huge portion of the entrepreneurial population, it’s important to continue to promote and encourage seniors to see entrepreneurship as an option. Because they are a population difficult to reach with traditional digital channels, it is necessary to build awareness through existing organizations and programs that already reach and engage with seniors.
The difficulty in getting seniors to engage online is one barrier to engagement that needs to be overcome. Seniors are capable of displaying tremendous talent and knowledge, but their unfamiliarity with technology does not help. They have unique needs that need to be addressed, and the best way to do that is to work with younger, tech-savvy entrepreneurs that can support their goals. One approach to filling this workforce is through an organization dedicated to bringing these distinct demographics together.
One organization doing just that is WISE – Seniors in Business. This organization is dedicated to pairing senior entrepreneurs with a young, engaged, tech savvy workforce eager to make their mark in the world. WISE stands for:
In other words, all the things that seniors possess, and that young entrepreneurs need to be successful. Between the inter-generational age groups, there is plenty of opportunity to create successful businesses. Through speaking engagements, presentations, and networking opportunities, WISE helps seniors start the business they’ve always wanted to run. They link up younger entrepreneurs with the organization to help complement every senior with the tech and digital skills they need to make a successful business in the modern day.
Another organization is Senior Enterprise, an EU supported initiative designed to encourage greater involvement with enterprise endeavors for those over the age of 50, including starting a business, acquiring or investing in a business, advising an entrepreneur or supporting innovation by collaborating with another business. Senior Enterprise was created to address the aging population, as well as address a growing problem with inactivity and rising healthcare costs associated with sedentary life in assisted living facilities. The organization has so far been successful in encouraging more seniors to become actively engaged with supporting local economies.
The United States held its first Senate Hearing on Senior Entrepreneurship back in 2012. Here, legislation was proposed related to seniors being able to utilize their unemployment benefits to support business start-ups. Prior, seniors could not receive unemployment benefits unless they could document they were looking for employment. Unemployed seniors however, are the least likely to ever become employed by another entity ever again. In essence, the government was wasting millions on what amounted to a welfare program for seniors. Instead, this money could be invested in senior entrepreneurship initiatives and senior start-ups.
The European Union has led the way in creating a model infrastructure of public and private investment models, education and training programs, and policy and research initiatives to support senior enterprise. The goal of increasing senior involvement in entrepreneurship was even outlined in its 2020 strategic plan as one of the key pathways to economic recovery in Europe.
Some ways that we could increase senior entrepreneurship in the U.S. are many: We could start by creating more educational programs that can reach this aging population. We could also expand senior access and education concerning microloans and crowdfunding sources. We also need to promote initiatives that pair young entrepreneurs with senior entrepreneurs, allowing the two parties to share and reap the benefits of one another’s strengths.
There are a plethora of ways to help aid senior entrepreneurship. Visit your local assisted living facility for your loved one. Talk to them about starting a business, or lending their wisdom and expertise to your own business.