By Michelle Crouch
Scott Buell, 61, worked in the pharmaceutical industry for three decades before he was laid off in 2009. But instead of retiring or looking for another job, Buell decided to take a bold step. He went into business for himself.
“I decided I wanted to take control of my destiny,” said Buell, of Raleigh, who started a company with his son.
“I had always thought about starting a business and this seemed like a good time,” he said. “The kids are out of college and not my responsibility anymore, our expenses are reasonable, and my skills and experience transfer well.”
Buell joined a growing number of older entrepreneurs starting businesses, said Suzanne LaFollette-Black, AARP North Carolina associate state director. In North Carolina, about 15 percent of workers age 50 and over are self-employed. A 2011 national survey by MetLife and Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, found that about 1 in 4 people ages 44 to 70 hoped to start a business.
To help those budding entrepreneurs, AARP North Carolina has teamed with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide training, workshops and other resources. Among them: an “Encore Entrepreneur” fair on April 21, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Candler.
The event will include a panel of successful small business owners and a “speed-dating” session where participants can learn from experts on topics such as start-up funding, business planning and marketing. AARP hopes to sponsor similar events throughout the year. For more information, contact LaFollette-Black at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AARP North Carolina is also connecting 50-plus entrepreneurs to the SBA-sponsored SCORE mentoring program, which pairs them with small business owners for support and help.
Experience a big asset
Mike Menefee, an entrepreneurship expert at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, said older, more experienced workers are ideal candidates to start businesses. “They have maturity, they often already have income and a lot of them have their homes paid off,” he said. “That makes them lower risk than other groups, and that’s what makes their businesses so successful.”
Menefee heads UNC Pembroke’s Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, which provides in-person and phone help to entrepreneurs at no cost. Every state community college has a small business center that offers similar support, and AARP North Carolina has been working with the centers to attract and serve older entrepreneurs, LaFollette-Black said.
Entrepreneurs can also access online resources at aarp.org/startabusiness and sba.gov/encore.
Buell’s company, CML Development, is working on sport sunglasses that incorporate reading lenses, but aren’t bifocals. An avid bike rider, Buell was inspired by his own frustration while riding at not being able to read the tiny numbers on his cyclometer that showed the time and distance traveled. AARP and SBA connected him to resources and mentors who could answer his questions, he said.
“Having your own business is so different from working for one,” Buell said. “You get to be involved in all aspects of the company, and you’re responsible for its success or failure. It’s exciting.”
Michelle Crouch is a writer living in Charlotte.