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Do You Want to Start a Small Business?

Sri Rao, left, and Roger Rowley, vice president of operations, examine the SenseAide device they developed and are marketing with the help of AARP entrepreneurial resources. Photo by Dean Van Dis

A lifelong engineer, Sri Rao enjoyed a diverse career with one of the nation’s major accounting firms. But as the economy stumbled, Rao envisioned a future as his own boss—both for job security and for a new challenge.

“And I think as you get to be around my age, you also look for a way to give back,” said Rao, 50, who spotted a niche for himself while helping care for his ill mother-in-law in 2009.

Observing firsthand the difficulties of in-home caregiving, he developed SenseAide, a service that provides electronic patient activity monitoring—such as whether someone has opened a medicine cabinet to take pills on schedule—as well as telephone reports and automated reminders for patients and their caregivers. All of the business activities—from designing the hardware to recruiting employees—take place at Sense­Aide’s Rochester Hills offices.

AARP resources were key in helping refine the business plan, said Rao, who also participated in Wayne State University’s TechTown Detroit business incubator program. “In the early stages the counseling is so valuable in understanding the complexities you have to deal with … from pricing to intellectual property rules.”

Encore Entrepreneurs

This month, AARP Michigan is offering more help to would-be business owners through a series of Encore Entrepreneurs workshops in several cities.

The free half-day seminars will brief attendees on an array of resources that AARP and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) have identified to help people over 50 interested in starting a company of their own.

“There is a lot of institutional knowledge in that age group,” said Nancy Grose, an SBA economic development specialist in Michigan.

The Encore Entrepreneurs program targets those in career crisis as well as people seeking to branch out in a new direction.

“Early retirement isn’t an option for many of them. Or they simply don’t want to retire. Our mission is to let them know what’s available,” Grose said.

Demand for information and assistance is growing as mature workers face challenging employment conditions, said Melissa Seifert, AARP Michigan associate state director for economic security.

Indeed, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, released annually by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Foundation, reported in 2012 that the national share of businesses started by people 55 to 64 has grown from about 14 percent in 1996 to nearly 21 percent in 2011. Those ages 45 to 54 accounted for an additional nearly 28 percent of all business start-up activity in 2011.

Work Reimagined

This new trend of older workers becoming entrepreneurs is driving the creation of new AARP-sponsored resources, like its Work Reimagined project with the professional networking site LinkedIn, which offers online coaching tools as well as access to a network of employers. The SBA also offers online self-assessments and other resources at

“The concept of retirement is very different these days,” Seifert said. “We want to be as relevant as possible to our members.”

The April workshops are timed to coincide with what AARP nationally has dubbed Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month. May is also National Small Business Month. They will include presentations by AARP, the SBA, the small-business counseling group SCORE and the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center. When possible, micro-lenders specializing in start-ups also will be on hand.

Attendees will also learn about government procurement programs with preferences for businesses owned by women, minorities and people with disabilities.

The workshops are free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended.

They run from 9 a.m. to noon at the following locations:

 Grand Rapids on April 5 at the Fifth Third Bank Building’s Gillette Auditorium, 111 Lyon St. NW, Grand Rapids MI 49503.

 Jackson on April 12 at the Carnegie Library auditorium.

 Traverse City on April 19 at Northwestern Michigan College’s Scholars Hall.

 Lansing on April 26 at the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center at Lansing Community College.

For reservations, go to or call 877-926-8300 toll-free.
—By Melissa Preddy

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