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Entrepreneurship: Risky Business or Fulfilling Encore?

Debbie Dalton, AARP California
Debbie Dalton, AARP California

Guest post by Debbie Dalton, AARP California Associate State Director of Outreach

When you were young, did you have a lemonade stand, a paper route, a babysitting gig, or yard care business? I did. When I look back at those early jobs, I realize I was experiencing my first taste of entrepreneurship. I was making many of my own decisions, managing my money, and marketing my work. After working all these years for someone else, I get the craving sometimes to try being my own boss and creating my own business.

It appears that I am not alone. A 2011 study found that approximately 25 million people – one in four Americans ages 44 to 70 – are interested in starting their own businesses or nonprofit organizations in the next five to 10 years. Older Americans are increasingly shunning retirement to start companies, for a variety reasons: a perception of limited job opportunities after a certain age; insufficient retirement savings; or simply a desire to work for themselves. In 2012, 23.4% of companies were started by people age 55 to 64, up from 14.3% of new entrepreneurs in 1996.

Although I see great opportunities in starting my own business, I also fear financial failure and I worry about having limited time to recoup any potential losses. The good news is that age and innovation go hand in hand. In fact, generally speaking, older entrepreneurs are more successful than younger ones. A study from Duke University scholar Vivek Wadha found that "twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25; and twice as many, over 60 as under 20." Wadha suggests that this success stems from older entrepreneurs having decades of experience and knowledge in their fields, as well as deep networks of relationships.

If the chance of success is high, what's the best way from being interested in starting a business to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur? That's where resources developed specifically for individuals age 50+ can help  you explore how to start, grow, and maintain a business. In fact, AARP and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have partnered to connect the 50+ population to small business development resources, including online courses, live workshops, conferences, and mentoring programs.

In April, AARP and SBA will once again join forces for National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month. Last year, this program helped over 119,000 encore entrepreneurs connect with information on starting a small business. On Saturday, April 26, AARP California and the SBA will host an event in Whittier on starting and growing a small business.

In addition, a series of free AARP/SBA webinars covers a range of topics including starting your own business, accessing funding and financing, developing a business plan, and assessing whether you are ready and able to start your own business. AARP also provides online resources on self-employment and shares a wealth of information through  Life Remagined for Work.

As AARP Jobs Expert Kerry Hannon writes in her book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills, becoming an entrepreneur is the American Dream. "[W]ith years of experience, you’re far more prepared to launch than a twenty-something....No one questions how challenging it can be but for most people, the reward is an inner payout that blows right by the financial struggles and setbacks.” Are you ready to take the leap?

Today’s post is the most recent in our Work@50+ Wednesday bi-weekly series.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on the latest in the series, as well as our events throughout the state. On Twitter, check out #workat50plus for the latest research and articles on the topic.

Debbie has been with AARP since 2005; she served as the lead for last November's Work@50+ event. She has extensive experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, working with older adults, managing staff and volunteers, developing programs, and speaking to groups large and small. Debbie holds an M.A. in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton and a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Follow her on Twitter: @DebbieDalton_.


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