WASHINGTON—Five years after the Great Recession stalled the American economy, senior citizen entrepreneurship might be what the United States needs to kick the slow recovery into another gear. Now, the Senate is trying to figure out what needs to be done help “encore entrepreneurs” get their businesses off the ground.
Members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee heard Wednesday from small business mentors and senior entrepreneurs who discussed the obstacles they faced empowering seniors to start a business.
“Seniors may not know that running their own business is a realistic option,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Aging Committee.
“Likewise, seniors may not realize the advantages they have that would make them excellent entrepreneurs, such as their life experience and real-world education, and the networks they have established and maintained throughout their work careers,” Collins added.
While innovation in the 21st century has largely been defined by Silicon Valley startups and social media megaliths founded by millennials, baby boomers are twice as successful as their younger counterparts when starting a technology business, according to a 2012 MIT study.
The study found that there are twice as many successful founders of tech businesses older than 50 years old as younger than 25, and twice as many older than 60 as younger than 20. Additionally, Encore.org found that one in four Americans between ages of 44 and70 are interested in starting their own businesses or non-profits.
While encore entrepreneurs – as the panel called older business starters — might be more successful and active, they often lack the financial capital to get going.
Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE, a non-profit funded by the federal Small Business Administration that helps small companies get off the ground, said that banks are hesitant to invest in senior citizens’ because they fear they may lose the ability or energy to run their businesses.
Both Yancey and Elizabeth Isele, co-founder and CEO of SeniorEntrepreneurshipWorks.
“They need money to start a business, but they don’t need a lot of money,” said Isele. “But if they can use that unemployment insurance—if there was a way to take that money and put into entrepreneurial education, the government can modulate this program.
And a little help could be on its way for some of these encore entrepreneurship. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the chairwoman of the Small Business Committee, introduced a bill in the Senate that would bolster SCORE’s resources for entrepreneurs.
Referring to encore entrepreneurs, Landrieu said, “I think our country, our structure here in Washington, our states and our communities need to recognize this wealth, this treasure and do what we can to help them.”