Exploring entrepreneurship later in life

According to one estimate, about one-fourth of new businesses are started by people age 55 to 64.
Arlene Grosso and her daughter started Access and Design
Arlene Grosso and her daughter started Access and Design
Published Feb. 28, 2019

For many seniors, the stereotype for retirement is feet propped up, TV on, beverage in hand.

In fact, an increasing number of seniors see retirement as a chance to explore a new path, a new career that will provide a sense of usefulness and purpose, not to mention some extra money for the bills.

The question retirees should be asking, especially if they are retired and restless, is, "What do I want to do next?" according to radio host and economics expert Chris Farrell, author of Purpose and a Paycheck, which looks at the changing dynamics of today's retiree population.

"Boomers aren't saving enough ... for retirement," Farrell, 65, said in an interview with LifeTimes. "That's the general thinking out there.

"But a different story is emerging," he said. "More and more people are working well into retirement age. What has surprised me ... is that more and more of (these) people are entrepreneurs."

About one-fourth of new businesses are started by people age 55 to 64, Farrell said.

One reason for that is that more and more people between age 55 and 60 are being forced out of their companies because of restructuring or downsizing. At that age, it's "really hard to get a job through a human resources department," Farrell said.

Another factor in the uptick of senior entrepreneurs is the wealth of experience they bring to the workplace. "What experienced workers have is knowledge, skills (and) something to sell. Entrepreneurs have more viable opinions," he said.

In today's economy, "People need to work longer and want to work longer," Farrell said.

Much of the entrepreneurship happens in the service industry, especially craft and artisan businesses, Farrell said. Often, seniors will partner with adult children in a less physically demanding environment. Many entrepreneurs want to teach the next generation their skills, so there is also growth in mentoring and teaching.

If you're retired, willingly or not, Farrell suggests you take your time to explore which path you want to pursue. Use your network of friends, neighbors and former co-workers to advise and, when you decide, support you, he said.

"The goal you're wrestling with is how to make money and do something (you) feel good about."

In the Tampa Bay area, there is a huge pool of potential senior entrepreneurs. AARP estimates 800,000 people 50 and older live in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties alone.

One area resource is Encore Tampa Bay, a nonprofit resourcing organization launched six years ago by Bevan Rogel, 64. Based in St. Petersburg, the organization holds forums, discussion, seminars and workshops to inform older adults about their later-in-life, or "encore," opportunities and resources.

Encore Tampa Bay's targets are "older adults trying to figure out what their next chapter will be ... after leaving their jobs," Rogel said. "People are just getting started with the longevity revolution."

Encore Tampa Bay seeks to focus older entrepreneurs on the resources in the community and the other agencies available. Rogel cited community organizations such as 1 Million Cups, Greenhouse St. Petersburg, SCORE and others.

"We try to answer their questions: 'Do I have the resources? Can I really do this? Where do I get started?'

"As older adults, senior entrepreneurs have to think out of the box and work around the prejudices," Rogel said.

Older adults also have to learn they don't have to do it right the first time, Rogel added. "Failure can be our best friend."

For Arlene Grosso, 74, her life experiences in real estate, construction and service industries, combined with a long stint of caring for her aging mother long distance, led her to a new business in her 70s.

After attending a forum staged by Encore Tampa Bay, she began exploring a new career, one that would help caregivers and their loved ones who want to "age in place." Along with her daughter, Grosso launched Access and Design.

Her company will construct portable or permanent ramps and railings, widen bathroom doorways, create full-access bathrooms and more.

"In a lot of cases, caregivers who are relatives or friends do not live in the area," Grosso said. "We send them videos and pictures to show what's going on and what's involved."

Since getting her contractor's license at 70, Grosso said her St. Petersburg-based business has been growing every year and is now up to eight employees.

Everyone wants to age in place, she said. "When I speak to groups, I ask them, 'Raise your hand if you want to go to a nursing home.'

"Nobody ever raises their hand," Grosso said.

Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at