September 24, 2012

Mentor Day targets older entrepreneurs

Julio Casiano, deputy district director, SBA

Tapping into a lifetime of experience, career know-how and industry knowledge can be a strong foundation for creating a successful business. But that doesn't make the prospect any less daunting for many senior workers.

"The biggest challenge we see among the older generation is procrastination to actually start," said Julio Casiano, deputy district director for the SBA in Hartford. "They wonder if they can or should start a business."

There are more than 76 million baby boomers in the country and many are interested and poised to be entrepreneurs. And the U.S. Small Business Administration and American Association of Retired Persons are positioned to help.

The SBA and AARP will team up Oct. 2 to host the first National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day at various locations across the country, including one in New Haven.

The networking and informational event will match senior entrepreneurs with mentors and community leaders who have small business experience.

Entrepreneurs over 50 will attend training sessions, talk with local leaders and gain knowledge to help them start and operate a business.

Mentors from the SBA's network of Small Business Development Center, the Women's Business Center, Gateway Community College, Central Connecticut State University Small Business Development Center and the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) will be available at the event.

Organizers expect about 25 entrepreneurs to attend the event, said Jennifer Millea, communications director for AARP in Connecticut. "This is a great starting point for those who are just thinking about entrepreneurship," she said.

Older workers need jobs. They are living longer, healthier lives and want to make sure they have enough retirement savings. Older jobseekers were unemployed for an average of 52.7 weeks in August, up somewhat from 51.4 weeks in July.

With one in four Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 interested in becoming entrepreneurs in the next five to 10 years, and 63 percent of Americans planning to work during retirement, starting a small business or nonprofit venture is a good option.

Older workers with experience in management, manufacturing, finance and supervising people are poised to start businesses, said Casiano.

"What's interesting is the older generation has the skills sets that are necessary to run a business but they have never understood how to use them to be self-employed," said Casiano.

Raising the necessary capital and having a positive cash flow is one of the biggest hurdles facing entrepreneurs these days. Casiano said lenders tend to look favorably at entrepreneurs with industry experience.

"One of the first things a lender will ask is whether this person has the management skills to pull this off," said Casiano. "Sometimes all a business owner needs is our help getting the numbers together and putting them in a plan that makes sense."

The number of businesses started by people between 55 and 64 years old is up sharply over the past 15 years, from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 20.9 percent in 2011, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2011 report.

"I think people are interested in starting businesses that reflect what they're passionate about," said Millea.

Older workers start businesses in the same industry they retired from, said Millea.

"They're doing something they're familiar with and it's what they like, but now it's for themselves and not someone else. They can decide on whether they want to work full-time or not. They have a lot more choices," said Millea.

In Connecticut, older workers are starting franchises, launching manufacturing operations and opening restaurants.

"We see older workers who have experience, great ideas and in some cases, customers already lined up," said Casiano. "They just need some expert advice to help them take off."

The "Encore Entrepreneur" event is from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 2 at the New Haven Public Library, 133 Elm St. The event is free but registration is required. RSVP at http://www.sba.gov/mentorday.

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