Friday, 30 November 2012

The rise of the 'olderpreneur'

Can entrepreneurship help tackling the challenges of population ageing? 

Last week, at the Aging2.0 event in London, Rama Gheerawo spoke during his presentation about the “rise of the olderpreneur”, a term coined to describe the increasing number of older people starting their own businesses. Indeed, in the UK, about 1 in 5 people in the over 50s group is self-employed, a ratio considerably higher than in other age groups. Most interestingly however, is the level of success experienced by older entrepreneurs – over 70% of their companies last more than 5 years, compared to only 28% of those owned by younger entrepreneurs. In their concept paper 'The Second Half',  the consortium formed by the Volans Innovation LabCranfield University’s and Accenture suggest that supporting baby boomers to become entrepreneurs is key to overcoming many of the challenges of population ageing. The more I read about this, the more I agree this makes a lot of sense.

Starting up a business at an older age seems to have its advantages. As well as being more mature and experienced, older people may feel  more willing to take the risks involved in starting up a business, since many no longer have to worry about paying a mortgage or raising a family, which is not the case for most younger people. But why would starting up a business appeal to older people? The dream is to work hard when you are young so you can finally enjoy your life when you turn 65, right? Wrong. The concept of “work hard, retire harder” is not only proving financially unrealistic but also undesirable to many people. It is clearer than ever that the desire of doing something enjoyable and relevant doesn't go away after the age of 65. By starting their own businesses, many older people are finding an opportunity to reinvent themselves and, many for the first time, are having the chance to invest their time and knowledge in something they really care about. In an article published by Age UK, Nick Smurthwaite describes several examples of older entrepreneurs who saw in starting their business an opportunity to remain active, fit, engaged with society and, also very important, a way of supplementing their pension income.

If you extrapolate these benefits to the wider society, the potential impact in terms of tackling the challenges of population ageing is huge. All we want is for people to remain healthy, connected and productive for as long as they wish and are able for. Population ageing should not be seen as a burden, but a gift our societies fought for over centuries and one which we now deserve. Older people should not be seen as the problem, but as part of the solution. I believe we spend too much time talking about how to best develop services for older people, when we should be talking about how to involve older people in the design of such services in the first place.

Now we want to hear from you. What do you think? Do you agree that supporting older people to become entrepreneurs could help tackling some of the challenges of population ageing?

Apart from The Second Half Programme, there are other organisations in the UK (such as The PRIME and the OWLE50 Project) exploring ways of supporting older people to achieve financial and personal fulfillment through sustainable self-employment. Do you know any other interesting initiatives that are supporting older people to start up their own businesses? Share with us!

Have you, or do you know anyone who has, started a business at an older age? Tell us about it!


Brenda Reginatto

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