Wendy Mayhew for ProfitGuide, September 2016.
The WISE generation are ideally positioned to build and run successful businesses.
Today’s entrepreneur stereotype is the recent university dropout writing code in a hoodie somewhere in Silicon Valley. But globally, the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs is actually people over the age of 50. Call them “seniorpreneurs.”
Fully 32% of Canadians expect to still be working full-time at age 66, according to the 2015 Sun Life Canadian Unretirement Index. Many would rather be doing it for themselves—a 2013 report from TD Economics indicates 15% of baby boomers have started a business, and 39% are considering starting one before they retire.
Research from the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME), a British charity, suggests that businesses started by people in their 50s are much more likely to survive than those on the other side of the half-century mark. That would seem to make sense—seniorpreneurs have amassed wisdom, skills and experience over years of work in their first career.
Why this surge in entrepreneurship among seniors? We’re living longer lives, but savings and pensions haven’t necessarily kept up. We’re also living more active and healthier lives well, and we’re not ready to slow down when we hit the traditional retirement age. But we can’t always find meaningful work. Combine the financial imperatives with the desire to keep going, and entrepreneurship seems like an attractive solution. We now have the time and the incentive to finally try those great business ideas we had decades ago fle7zs1.
Andy Godbout retired from the Canadian federal government in 2005 project management apps. He’d wanted to start a business from an early age, but waited until 2015 before actually doing it. With years of experience as an accountant, there was no question as to what he’d do. CAG Bookkeeping Services now serves a sizeable number of clients in the Ottawa area.
Mary Taggart, editor-in-chief of Ottawa Home Magazine, had never thought of owning her own business. But then publisher Michael Curran sat down with her to discuss how to expand the title’s reach. One option was for Taggart to acquire the business and run it herself. She hesitated, but not for long—Taggart’s passion for the product and the opportunity to take the publication to the next level were too great to resist. At 52, Taggart became the owner of Ottawa Home Magazine.
Richard Nadeau was 54 when Chris Labonte reached out to him. Labonte was a contract worker at Douglas & McIntyre, a Vancouver publisher that had just gone into bankruptcy protection and laid off its staff. Nadeau and Labonte decided to reinvent the business under the name Figure.1 Publishing, and set themselves a target of publishing 45 books over the next three years. They did 60.
Val Fox co-founded Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ) startup incubator in 2010. Last year, at the age of 61, she stepped away from her role as DMZ Executive to launch her own business. The Pivotal Point, her consultancy, guides academic institutions, SMEs and governments through the process of building their own DMZ-like startup ecosystem, and then creates linkages between them.
Seniorpreneurs face a different set of challenges than their younger competitors. While there are plenty of groups and governments encouraging millennials to start businesses, there’s less support for those over-50. Intergenerational cooperation is likely to benefit everyone involved. People over the age of 50 bring wisdom, initiative, skills and experience—a combination that have led me to dub them the ‘WISE generation’—while young wannabe entrepreneurs typically have a good grasp of today’s technology.
Pat Crosscombe’s experience on condo and non-profit boards inspired her vision for Boardspace, which handles the administrative burden on behalf of directors. But she didn’t have the necessary technology knowledge to bring the idea to fruition. She acquired that expertise by hiring two recent graduates of Algonquin College’s Computer Engineering Technology and Computer Science program. Boardspace’s new Chief Creative Officer is in his 30’s and brings design, UX, and front-end development skills to the team.
A word of caution: Just like with every other generation, entrepreneurship isn’t the right path for every person over 50. Plenty of would-be founders and business owners jump in without any research, or because they can’t find a company willing to hire them. But the prejudice against hiring workers past the half-decade mark is starting to fade.
For example, Escape Bicycle Tours founder Maria Rasouli hires retirees and seniors who are longtime residents of Ottawa because she recognizes and values the wealth of experience and knowledge that they bring. The company today ranks top among 40 tours and activities in Ottawa on TripAdvisor, and its senior tour guides are a big reason why.
Promisingly, organizations that help experienced boomers find meaningful work are starting to pop up across the country. Non-profit Third Quarter supports people over the age of looking to return to the workforce, matching candidates from its database of 55,000 with jobs in industries from hospitality and tourism to technology. Boomerswork and Kahuso match executives with companies on a part-time basis, while the latter also offers advisory and board opportunities.
But if you do decide that starting or owning a business is your next career move, take heart: You’re not alone. Entrepreneurship knows no age.