New Businesses for Older Entrepreneurs

The Field Center for Entrepreneurship has been supporting business owners of all stripes for nearly 15 years, but it was only recently that Edward Rogoff, the center's director, and his colleagues identified an unexpected demographic among their clientele: the older entrepreneur.

It's a social trend that's gathering momentum: the man or woman who starts a business at the age of 50, or 60, or 70. The popular image of the entrepreneur as the ambitious, young hotshot, it turns out, is largely false. Later-life entrepreneurship, a largely unnoticed and unexamined phenomenon, is rapidly growing.

To get a better sense of what is driving this trend, Rogoff and his colleagues organized a one-day conference at Baruch last October. They partnered with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the UJA Federation of New York to look at some of the specifics associated with older entrepreneurs. Rogoff called the conference "a seminal event, one that helped define later-life entrepreneurship and create a new field of study."

Photo by Tracy Price

Bronx native and Field Center alumna ELEANOR LONDON, 51, opened Xtra Diva Outlet, a plus-sized womenís fashion boutique in Midtown, with partner Al Vasquez. Xtra Diva, which has about 400 customers, carries a full range of plus-sized fashions, focusing on the largest sizes, which many well-known plus-sized chains donít stock. Shopping is by appointment (call 212-920-9505).
Conference participants considered a variety of issues. How does later-life entrepreneurship differ in risk-taking, financing, and family dynamics? Are older entrepreneurs driven by the need to supplement their retirement incomes, or are they pursuing a lifelong dream? What determines the success or failure of their ventures?

The October conference included researchers from a wide range of disciplines: economics, sociology, finance, gerontology, and philanthropy. Notably absent were the subjects of the conferences: later-life entrepreneurs. But that will change. Now that the "experts" have had their say, the Field Center is planning a second conference, this one for the older men and women who are starting, managing, or expanding businesses.

According to Rogoff, the Fall 2007 conference will deal with the special needs and characteristics of this group. For instance, Rogoff points out, older entrepreneurs often have extensive networks of former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances cultivated over decades. These people can become a "unique and invaluable asset" for the older businessperson. The older entrepreneur also has special concerns, the foremost often being how to retain retirement health benefits when starting a new venture.

Conference organizers are thinking big. Taking advantage of the AARP's extensive membership and mailing lists, Monica Dean, administrative director of the Field Center, says the upcoming event could draw up to 1,000 participants. To date, says Ed Rogoff, "there exists no community of older entrepreneurs and no programs for them. We’re aiming to change that."

For more information, call 646-312-4780.