The popular image of the successful entrepreneur is the young 20-something whizz-kid, who sleeps all day and has his bright ideas at 2 a.m. By contrast, most people assume that people in the 60 or older age group don’t have what it takes to start a business. Some may thing they lack energy and ambition, are set in their ways and are unable to deal with the latest technology.
However, research shows that the real situation is quite the opposite. While new business formations from 1996-2011 were lowest among the 20-34 age group, the sharpest rise in the same period was among those between 55 and 64. Moreover, according to the latest census data, the percentage of over 65s who were self-employed was 26.9, whereas for those between 25 and 34 the percentage was a mere 7.2.
In fact, older entrepreneurs have had some of the biggest successes. The top spot on Forbes’ list of the country’s fastest-growing technology companies in 2011 went to First Solar, founded by the 74-year-old Harold McMaster in 1990. Six years earlier, at the age of 68, he founded Glass Tech Solar, producing solar arrays, and this led him to spot the opportunity for large-scale manufacturing of low-cost thin film cells. When he found the right chemical base, Solar Cells, Inc., the precursor of First Solar, was born.
Colonel Harland Sanders
Probably much better known is Kentucky Fried Chicken, founded by Colonel Harland Sanders at the age of 65. When his little restaurant failed, instead of retiring he took $105 from the first check he received from Social Security, as start-up funding for his new venture. Nine years later, in 1964, he sold it to a consortium of businessmen for $2 million.
Advantages For Older Entrepreneurs
Those who start a business at retirement age actually have quite a few competitive advantages compared with younger entrepreneurs. They often have superior financial resources, such as home ownership and retirement savings, and are also likely to have a better credit history, making it easier for them to obtain start-up funds with lenders seeing them as a better risk. Older entrepreneurs also often possess greater business acumen and creativity, and benefit from their experiences in the business world. In addition, of course, they often have a wide network of contacts.
Types of Business
The types of business start-ups by older entrepreneurs vary widely, but there is no doubt that a large percentage of these individuals build on their previous experience and contacts.
A notable example is Mac Lewis, who at 65 founded FieldSolutions, a Minnesota-based company supplying technicians to big technology companies all over North America. Previously he had worked for 14 years with IBM in a variety of roles, and his experience and connections enabled him to spot, and fill, a gap in the market.
Poppy Bridger retired from her work as a chemist at 69, but three years later at 72 she had the chance to buy and operate the lab she had worked at for 45 years. Now Anaheim Test Laboratory in Santa Ana, CA brings in about $350K a year, and Poppy at 84 is still at the helm.
Some of the most popular enterprises started by over 60s include consultancies, bed-and-breakfast establishments, and small retail businesses. Internet-based businesses are also very much favored, as they can be set up very easily. Other popular choices include real estate agent, driving services, and adult day care.
You Can Succeed
The so-called 3G retirement — gossip, golf, and grandchildren — is not to everyone’s taste, and many over 60s want a bit more of a challenge. The advice from those who have been there is to research the market before starting your business — find a product or service which is in demand, and match it with your experience and interests. And a warning — don’t use your retirement funds. In this economic climate, not all businesses succeed, and you don’t want to be left with nothing. But make sure you have a solid business plan, and you have every chance of success.
About the Author: Joshua Turner is a writer who creates articles in relation to business. In this article, he describes successful older entrepreneurs and aims to encourage further study with an Online Masters in Aging.