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"Young People Are Just Smarter"

Baby boomers represent the fastest growing demographic in entrepreneurship.

In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated, “Young people are just smarter,” apparently forgetting that it was baby boomers like Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, and Steven Jobs who led the information revolution and made his job (and all those hoodies) possible. Zuckerberg may be the poster child for entrepreneurship, but one obviously doesn’t have to be a twentysomething to be dreaming up something big. “The fastest growing demographic in the world of entrepreneurship is baby boomers,” says Jane Robinson of MoxyMarketplace, finding plenty of evidence to back up that bold claim. Millions of boomers with two or three decades of corporate experience are taking their skills and passions to become “creative entrepreneurs”- people who build a business around their personal sense of aesthetics.

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes entrepreneurship, also found that there were more ventures launched by baby boomers over the past ten years than any other age group. The share of new entrepreneurs aged 55 to 64 grew from 14% in 1996 to 23% in 2012, according to the foundation, a reflection of the two vital things many mid-lifers have in spades- time and money. A 2015 Gallup survey conformed that people over 50 were among the fastest-growing groups of new entrepreneurs in the United States (about twice that of millennials, in fact). Weary of the corporate grind and not ready to sit on a beach, boomers are revisiting the creative passions they had as young people and packaging them as indie enterprises like art galleries or dance studios. The Internet has made much of this possible, of course, as reaching a global audience of consumers is today a lot easier than when boomers’ parents were reaching what was then retirement age.

Some creative entrepreneurship among boomers is driven more by necessity. With no jobs or even interviews in sight (resumes listing college degrees granted in the 1970s are typically trashed immediately), boomers are creating their own businesses and never looking back at nine-to-five life. Ignored by dozens of potential employers because of his age, 64-year old Jim Glay of Arlington Heights, Illinois, founded Crash Boom Bam, a vintage drum company, in his apartment’s spare bedroom. While not making him rich, the unquestionably cool enterprise paid the bills, something the traditional job market certainly wasn’t doing. Because of technology and the increasing irrelevance of geography, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to start a business, making creative entrepreneurship a good option for boomers with a little imagination and a lot of determination. The desire to immerse oneself in a particular passion is often the backdrop for the decision to go off on one’s own. After a 35-year career in information technology, sixty-year old Paul Giannone of Brooklyn decided to pursue his passion, which happened to be pizza. It required taking out a second mortgage on his home, but Giannone took the big leap of opening Paulie Gee’s, which quickly proved popular among the borough’s hipsters. “I wanted to do something that I could be proud of,” Giannone said, feeling that being his own boss made his new job not feel like work.

The stories surrounding boomers who changed their lives to follow their inner muse can sometimes seem like those of a Hollywood movie. The stress of working more than eighty hours a week in a law firm was making Antoinette Little sick, according to her doctor, forcing her to consider to career alternatives. After taking a few culinary classes, Little discovered her passion: making chocolate. Voila! Antoinette Chocolatier in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, was born, offering her not just the chance to be a creative entrepreneur but to live a lot longer. “You get to eat your mistakes,” she quipped, obviously a lot happier making truffles and other tasty treats than filing legal briefs.

Given the huge number of potential creative entrepreneurs, it’s not surprising that business startup seminars specifically for boomers have become quite popular across the country. AARP, which calls someone over the age of 50 who starts a small business an “encore entrepreneur,” is doing yeoman’s duty by working with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help boomers do just that. A webinar series and free online courses can be found at the SBA’s Learning Center, and there are Encore Mentoring events in various cities as well. Attendees at these events get counseling and training to learn how to create their own enterprise, with the writing of a business plan and seeking of financing key steps along the way.

Companies offering coaching and support for budding boomer entrepreneurs are another growing business, with Bizstarters leading the way. Since 1991, Bizstarters has helped boomers stay in the game after leaving a traditional job, often by doing something a lot more interesting and creative than in their first career. While age is a liability in the standard job market, it’s a clear asset in the entrepreneurial world, according to Jeff Williams, founder of Bizstart. “People pay for expertise, experience, and wisdom, and baby boomers have it,” Williams believes, with their network and project orientation other key plusses. Most of Bizstart’s clients launch their venture in a few months for under $10,000, with Williams’s team providing the bridge from idea to reality.

Count on baby boomers to continue to lead the way in entrepreneurship into their seventies and eighties.

More from Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D.
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