Seniors fueling wave of entrepreneurship

Staff photo by Fran Maye Jerry Brown of Unionville says he started an ice cream business later in his life because people who eat ice cream always seem to be happy.

Two years ago, at age 55, Karen Eichman decided to go into business for herself after working 28 years at Kaolin mushroom farm in Kennett Square in accounting and human resources.

Her husband quit his job to do administrative work for her and to ensure the business gets a fair chance to survive. She planned for her new career back in the mid-90s. When the mushroom industry went on strike, she went to law school.

I saw I was doing all the work and the lawyers were getting all the glory and the money, Eichman said.

Older Americans such as Eichman are increasingly shunning retirement to start companies because they see job opportunities limited after age 55, because they dont have enough savings to retire comfortably or because they want to work for themselves.

People ages 55 to 64 started 23.4 percent of companies in 2012, up from 14.3 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996, according to the Kauffman Foundations research.

The 30-year corporate job with a gold watch isnt there anymore, said Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy for Kauffman. A lot of people are not ready to retire. We are living healthier for longer, and they are looking for a main income or a supplementary income.

Lyn Sinclair, who just turned 59, is starting up a new venture in hopes of helping to fund her retirement. Sinclair, who was in the restaurant business for 31 years, nine of them in Kennett Square, plans to open a bed-and-breakfast at 121 Meredith St. later this year. She bought a building that had been slated for demolition earlier in the year.

I had to do something late in my career, she said. I didnt have any kind of retirement situation set up. I call this my encore career.

About a quarter of Americans ages 44 to 70 are interested in creating their own company or nonprofit venture, according to November 2011 research by San Francisco-based Encore.org, which studies baby boomers plans for new careers.

The average age of 500 recent applicants for a Florida entrepreneurship program funded in part by the U.S. Labor Department was 51, said Michael ODonnell, regional project manager for Startup Quest in Fort Lauderdale.

People over 50 are seriously exploring startups as an option, he said. These are highly educated people that were laid off in the last downturn and realize those jobs are not coming back.

The 55-and-older Americans may have more confidence in their abilities than prior generations, demographers said.

One of those is Jerry Brown of Unionville, who at age 76 should be enjoying golf or on exotic cruises. Instead, he just started a new business called the Foxy Loxy, which sells ice cream, coffee and light sandwiches.

Brown, who worked as an architect in Wilmington his entire career, started an ice cream shop in Vermont 10 years ago when he retired. It was so successful, he decided to open one in Unionville.

The idea jus appealed to me, said Brown, who knew it would be a bit of a struggle since he had no prior knowledge of the restaurant industry. But people who buy ice cream are usually in a good mood. Besides, I cant see the idea of my playing golf the rest of my life.

Some people, like Harlan Kennard, who at age 55 started a graphic design business in West Grove in 2008, wants to work to simply keep active.

I cant imagine not working, he said. I want to keep active.

Ivan Sacks, a local financial counselor, said people are living longer and need to ensure the money lasts long into their life

People are living longer and many dont want to sit in their rocking chair and retire, he said. Theyre taking the wisdom of a lifetime of work and deciding to do their own start-up, and many are quite successful. Boomers tend to take more calculated risks than 20-somethings who just want to roll the dice.

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About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.