Hold the Retirement Party — Grandma’s Starting Her Own Business

Baby boomers make up a growing share of new entrepreneurs, as older Americans look for ways to stay busy and earn money.

Judith Norton, is looking to expand her low-sugar, spiked jam business after taking an entrepreneurship class through the Kauffman Foundation.
National Journal
Nancy Cook
Add to Briefcase
Nancy Cook
June 26, 2014, 9:56 a.m.

Ju­dith Norton nev­er ima­gined be­com­ing a pur­vey­or of high-end jam. The par­tially re­tired Cali­for­nia res­id­ent in­stead spent the bulk of her ca­reer cre­at­ing and writ­ing edu­ca­tion­al train­ing ma­ter­i­als for private com­pan­ies from the cof­fee in­dustry to com­munity col­leges. Yet now, at 67, Norton finds her­self con­tem­plat­ing a dif­fer­ent ca­reer tra­ject­ory: as an en­tre­pren­eur who makes and mar­kets low-sug­ar jam, fin­ished with a splash of spir­its. Her jam tastes so good that an Or­ange County Re­gister food writer lis­ted it as a fa­vor­ite product for 2013. That’s not a bad dis­tinc­tion for a product that Norton con­sidered a hobby un­til re­cently.

Norton, like many aging Amer­ic­ans, is not ready to re­tire in the ste­reo­typ­ic­al sense — mov­ing to Flor­ida or play­ing bingo or spend­ing her days shut­tling between doc­tor’s ap­point­ments. (She says she’s way too healthy for that.) In­stead, she is think­ing about ramp­ing up her jam-mak­ing in­to a small busi­ness with a ded­ic­ated pro­duc­tion space and great­er so­cial me­dia pres­ence.

What helped to put her in this en­tre­pren­eur­i­al frame of mind? A pi­lot pro­gram from AARP and the Kauff­man Found­a­tion that teaches en­tre­pren­eur­i­al skills to baby boomers and seni­or cit­izens in Or­ange County and New York as a way to both keep this demo­graph­ic en­gaged in the work­force for longer and to provide them with a po­ten­tially dif­fer­ent way to earn money as they age. “We’re try­ing to stim­u­late in­nov­a­tion that will be­ne­fit people over the age of 50,” says Jody Holtz­man, seni­or vice pres­id­ent of thought lead­er­ship at AARP, who helped to launch the pi­lot pro­grams. “It can have a dir­ect im­pact if people over 50 start com­pan­ies, hire work­ers, and pay taxes.”

The num­ber of en­tre­pren­eurs ages 55 to 64 has only grown over the last dec­ade — bust­ing the myth of en­tre­pren­eur­ship as something solely for young, hot­shot, hood­ie-wear­ing risk takers. In 2003, people ages 55 to 64 rep­res­en­ted 18.7 per­cent of all new en­tre­pren­eurs, com­pared with 2013 when their ranks rose to 23.4 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to data from the Kauff­man Found­a­tion. New en­tre­pren­eurs from this age group now sur­pass the num­ber of those in the 20-34 age range. “The trend lines are very clear there,” says E.J. Reedy, dir­ect­or in re­search and policy at the Kauff­man Found­a­tion. “Most people who go in­to en­tre­pren­eur­ship have some work his­tory.”

The Kauff­man Found­a­tion first be­came in­ter­ested in ca­ter­ing to the baby boomer and aging en­tre­pren­eur­i­al set in 2009, when one of its top re­search­ers, Dane Stan­gler, pre­dicted a com­ing en­tre­pren­eur­i­al boom among older people. Stan­gler thought that rising life ex­pect­ancy, coupled with the huge co­hort of baby boomers about to re­tire and a pretty tough labor mar­ket, would drive more people to start firms or work for them­selves. His pre­dic­tions were not off-base. The num­ber of new en­tre­pren­eurs between the ages of 55 and 64 con­tin­ues to grow, com­pared with the young­est gen­er­a­tion (even as the largest share of new en­tre­pren­eurs still falls in the age range of 45 to 54).

Armed with about $30,000 in AARP money, the Kauff­man Found­a­tion cre­ated a busi­ness class de­signed es­pe­cially for older Amer­ic­ans. The goal was to help baby boomers and seni­or cit­izens think through the mech­an­ics of start­ing a busi­ness from scratch: from hon­ing a sales pitch to find­ing fin­an­cing to build­ing fin­an­cial pro­jec­tions and de­vel­op­ing a per­son­al brand. At the same time, the class tries to take in­to ac­count the unique as­pects of start­ing a busi­ness as an older work­er such as the fin­an­cial risk and factor­ing in the de­sire to even­tu­ally re­tire. “If I’m a boomer and I’m think­ing about start­ing a busi­ness, I need to plan my exit as soon as I plan my en­trance, un­like a 20-year-old,” says Michele Mar­key, vice pres­id­ent of products and pro­grams at the Kauff­man Found­a­tion. So far, about 100 people have at­ten­ded the pi­lot classes in New York and Or­ange County, with AARP of­fer­ing some schol­ar­ships to cov­er part of the cost.

Larry Kutcher, a con­sult­ant to en­tre­pren­eurs and com­pan­ies, taught the in­aug­ur­al Or­ange County class. Un­like young­er people, Kutcher says that baby boomers and re­tir­ees bring spe­cial skills to en­treneur­ship: lots of work ex­per­i­ence, a fairly soph­ist­ic­ated sup­port net­work, and fin­an­cial re­sources. The chal­lenge, he says, is that many come from cor­por­ate en­vir­on­ments, where they’re ac­cus­tomed to an abund­ance of re­sources, or where they’re taught to act with more cau­tion in pur­su­ing their ideas.

This is where Kutcher first en­countered Norton, the jam-maker who still raves about the ex­per­i­ence and stays in touch with her class­mates. “It gave me a dif­fer­ent way to look at hav­ing a busi­ness and dif­fer­ent op­tions that I nev­er would have had ac­cess to,” she says. “It was a real high to go to the class every week.”

Of the 21 people who en­rolled in the Or­ange County class, about three or four are now act­ively pur­su­ing their busi­ness ven­tures. In ad­di­tion to Norton’s jam pro­spects, oth­ers are work­ing on open­ing a con­sign­ment store, start­ing web­site pro­jects, or of­fer­ing pro­fes­sion­al ser­vices like help­ing col­lege stu­dents pre­pare for job in­ter­views, Kutcher says. Just as im­port­ant, a few at­tendees figured out that their busi­ness ideas would not work in the mar­ket­place. “That is, by it­self, a suc­cess,” Kutcher says.

Of course, there’s in­her­ent risk in nudging baby boomers and seni­or cit­izens to­ward en­tre­pren­eur­ship. The fin­an­cial risk of po­ten­tially sink­ing part of one’s nest egg in­to an un­cer­tain ven­ture comes at a time when people need to en­sure they have enough money to live as they age and face mount­ing health con­cerns. But for baby boomers who’ve found them­selves laid-off from long-held, cor­por­ate jobs thanks to the re­ces­sion, or for those who aren’t yet ready to re­tire, en­tre­pren­eur­ship of­fers an av­en­ue for stay­ing en­gaged and con­tinu­ing to make some money over a longer time peri­od. “You no longer have longev­ity even at the lar­ger com­pan­ies, and this con­spires to make every­one at-risk any­way,” Kutcher adds. “Our so­ci­ety has changed, so that every­one is an en­tre­pren­eur in some re­spect.”

What We're Following See More »
INCLUDES WAIVER FOR MATTIS
Congress Releases Stopgap Funding Bill
2 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"Congressional negotiators released a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and to fund federal agencies and programs through April 28." The 70-page continuing resolution includes $170 million to aid Flint, Michigan's water supply, and a waiver that would allow Ret. Gen. James Mattis to assume the role of secretary of Defense.

Source:
INTERSTATE COMPACT GAINING TRACTION
Democrats Explore Electoral College Changes
8 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

"A number of Capitol Hill Democrats have revived proposals to reform or abolish the Electoral College," chief among Michigan's John Conyers, who "held a panel on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss options for eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with a system where a national popular vote elects the president. ... The plan with the most support to reform the election college at the panel was the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposal first developed in 2001 that would give the national popular vote winner the majority of electoral college votes through an agreement between the states."

Source:
EFFORT LIKELY TO DIE IN COMMITTEE
Jordan Can’t Force a Floor Vote on Impeaching Koskinen
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan attempted to force a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but "the House voted overwhelmingly to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. ... The committee will not be required to take up the resolution." Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "made a motion to table the resolution, which the House voted against by a 180-235 margin, mostly along party lines."
Source:
AFTER THE VOTE FOR SPEAKER
Ryan: No Committee Assignments Until New Year
18 hours ago
THE DETAILS

House Speaker Paul Ryan has decreed that House members "won’t receive their committee assignments until January — after they cast a public vote on the House floor for speaker. "The move has sparked behind-the-scenes grumbling from a handful of Ryan critics, who say the delay allows him and the Speaker-aligned Steering Committee to dole out committee assignments based on political loyalty rather than merit or expertise." The roll call to elect the speaker is set for Jan. 3, the first vote of the new Congress.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login