Do me a favor. For the next three seconds, create your own mental vision of a startup entrepreneur. Think of someone who is over-the-moon excited to launch a new company, someone who has boundless energy, someone who will make it work at all costs.
Now tell me their age. 20? 25? Maybe 29? I’m willing to bet that you are thinking of a young whippersnapper, a Mark Zuckerberg lookalike. Well, here’s a newsflash: One of today’s highest growth demographics of new entrepreneurs isn’t in the recent college graduate category. According to new research released this week by the Kauffman Foundation, 20.9 percent of new ventures in 2011 were launched by persons in the 55 to 64 age group—quite a jump from back in 1996 when just 14.3 percent of new companies were launched by the same demographic.
Jane Angelich is one of these entrepreneurs. At 60 years old, she is the CEO and founder of supercollar, a combination dog collar and leash, with offices in Marin County, Calif. She launched the company back in 2007 and says she thinks others her age are turning to entrepreneurship for a few reasons.
“First, I really think people just get burned out,” she says. “They start a career that they weren’t sold on initially and have been doing for a long time. They sit down and look at their life and ask themselves if they love what they are doing every day and if they want to waste any more time doing something they aren’t thrilled with.”
After admitting to professional discontent, Angelich says those persons think of ways to make a living out of current hobbies or interests.
Another reason: loss of retirement income.
“Maybe you had a robust portfolio 10 years ago, but it has taken a nosedive, and you are forced to work, so why not do something you love?” she adds.
Stan C. Kimer (pictured), 56, is another late bloomer entrepreneur. After 31 years at IBM, he retired in 2010 and started Raleigh, N.C.-based Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, a firm specializing in diversity management. He says many businesspersons in the 55 to 64 age group do not have alternate options and, when looking for jobs, face ageism.
“A lot of companies say they value mature workers, but at the end of the day they feel that they can get someone younger for cheaper who is willing to work 60 hours per week,” he says.
Advice for budding entrepreneurs
Are you between 55 and 64 years old and want to start a company? Kimer and Angelich offer a few words of wisdom.
“Don’t let your age stand in the way of your vision,” Angelich says. “I also work as a business coach and, when people are going through a professional transition, I make them write their own obituaries. I tell them to make it New York Times worthy. The exercise tends to pull out their passions.”
Kimer suggests budding entrepreneurs thinking about their unique value proposition. “What is special about you and what will you bring to the marketplace that isn’t already out there? How will you improve what is already out there?” he asks.
Make a bucket list, no matter how far flung, Angelich advises. Want to own a place in Tuscany? Write it on the list. “Then make a plan for how you will get there,” she says.
Try shadowing other business owners. Angelich recommends logging onto Vocation Vacations, a website that, for a small fee, allows you to physically follow people in other professions—from models to voice-over actors.
“It can give you a glimpse into what a job is really like before you dive in yourself,” she says.
Lastly, Kimer says it’s important to have patience. Success comes after a great deal of hard work and things don’t always happen as quickly as you’d like them to.
“You need to invest time in building your business, try to be patient,” he says. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Career consultants and mentors can help tremendously in getting your business off the ground.”
Photo credit: Courtesy Total Engagement by Kimer