Boomers Leading the Way in Business Formation

September 1, 2015
By Dell Gines, Senior Community Development Advisor


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Elizabeth Isele

Senior entrepreneurs are key components of both the American and global economies. Our senior population has a wealth of talent and work history that many continue to use to support their families and communities. One such senior, Elizabeth Isele, has been championing the potential and power of senior entrepreneurship as founder and president of Senior Entrepreneurship Works. Created in 2012, Senior Entrepreneurship Works helps empower an “experienced economy” by teaching and supporting senior entrepreneurship around the nation and globe. The organization provides training, research and advocacy to assist entrepreneurs aged 50-plus launch successful businesses.

The following interview offers a high-level understanding of senior entrepreneurship.

Why focus on senior entrepreneurship?
Because 34 million seniors have self-identified as wanting to start their own business. The one cohort that continues creating businesses is the boomer cohort, which is starting more businesses than any other age group. Millennials have trouble starting businesses because they are coming out of college with so much debt. Senior entrepreneurs often have the ability, with their life cost being lower or more controllable, to assume more risk.

Senior entrepreneurs can also create a net positive on retirement programs, create jobs and raise the level of productivity in this country. Getting productivity back up again will require greater entrepreneurship and seniors can help. It not only fosters the seniors’ self-reliance but also the self-reliance of communities.  

What skills do seniors bring to the entrepreneurial table?
Experience. Life’s work experience. We equate innovation with young people as opposed to experience. But innovation can come from experience. Seniors have at least 60,000 to 80,000 hours of experience. Do we really want that to walk out the door? Especially when seniors don’t want to walk out the door, they want to keep working to be able to continue to use that experience.  

What are the risks of being a senior entrepreneur?
In all of our workshops we have a pre-assessment tool. It asks them if they really understand what this transition (to entrepreneurship) entails. Do they understand the impact on them, the impact on the family? The second step is to determine if they have what it takes to be entrepreneurs. Do they understand their financial positions well enough to take a risk? At this stage we want them to do everything possible to reduce the financial risk of starting a business.  

What's the minimum amount of money they need to determine the proof of concept? The biggest risk is financial; the second biggest risk is to their health. Are they healthy enough? Do they understand how much work it takes to start their own business? They need to be in a position of health to be able to start a business. If they don’t come out of the assessment with an A+ that doesn't mean they should give up, rather, they might look to partner with another senior entrepreneur. 

How do you support senior entrepreneurs?
The biggest general rule is that we need to work to create a whole senior entrepreneurship ecosystem that involves four pillars. These pillars are access to capital, education, training programs, and public policy to support senior entrepreneurship and research.   

One specific program we host is our thought leader round tables. We bring in about 25 thought leaders to a local city or country such as Dublin, London, Brussels, New Zealand, Australia and many cities in the United States to create a blueprint on how to create an ecosystem for senior entrepreneurship. We also have our curriculum and experience incubators where we host workshops called the new business schools, because seniors want very quick and specific details about how to start a business. They are taken through the entire entrepreneurial arc from ideation to the exit strategy and discover how to close the business or transfer it to someone else. We now do it inter-generationally because there is incredible value of having young people network along with older people. 

What are your final thoughts on senior entrepreneurship?
Senior entrepreneurship presents a tremendous opportunity to the United States as well as the globe. The ability to increase senior entrepreneurship creates productivity, jobs and greater economic growth.  

About Elizabeth

Her work has taken her across the world to cities such as London, Dublin and Brussels and to New Zealand and Australia. She has given presentations on senior entrepreneurship to the U.S. Congress, United Nations, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, European Union Commission and Human Rights Coordinator of Australia.

Visit the Senior Entrepreneurship Works website to learn more.  Click here to email Elizabeth.