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Starting A Business: The New Retirement?

More aging adults are stepping out on a limb and starting their own businesses, says a report from the Kauffman Foundation. In New Hampshire, the Small Business Association and AARP are working together to make sure these so-called “encore entrepreneurs” have the tools they need.

The recession had hit by the time Joyce Goodwin finished her temporary position as director of a school in Hudson. She was 54, and couldn’t find another job.  

My age was prohibitive in some of the jobs that may have been available. When you’re looking at someone younger, in their 30s or so, that’s not really a hard choice.

Goodwin’s experience was in early education management. She says she had no other choice really.  So – she started her own business. An early education center, called “Granite Start.” On Wednesday’s Forum on the Future, at St. Anselm’s in Manchester, Goodwin shared her story. Mary Collins was in the audience. Collins is the state director of the Small Business Development Center, an organization at UNH, which coordinates with state and federal government to provide resources to entrepreneurs. She says since the recession, she’s seen more people in Goodwin’s position.

We have people that, out of need, have been downsized out of corporate America, and are looking to do something with a business they may have on the side, or to start a new business.

Finding capital, Collins says, is usually the hard part. Panelists and audience members at the forum agreed that the private sector and state government need to do more to make capital available to older folks who are new to entrepreneurship. After all, this is a demographic that comes with decades of experience, robust social networks, and few distractions in the way of family.

Paul Bemis worked as a senior executive at computer companies like HP and Apollo Computing, before striking out on his own in Concord, NH. His niche market was too small to attract investment capital, so he funded his startup – Applied Math Modeling, Inc., -- by himself. He says he invested everything he had earned in upper management:

I was comfortable, nice home, second home, cars, new cars, kids in college, expense account, you know, nice, and then all of a sudden you take all of that, put it on number three, spin the wheel, and the downside risk is all of that is gone.

For the first time in his life, Bemis says, he had to grapple with self-doubt. Not to mention the social pressure.

That transition is difficult. Because you interact with your peers, whether it's at the soccer field, kids functions, they’re all doing well, got the nice car, this and that, and the material component becomes very obvious, and you have to be willing to swallow your pride.

Most of the time, older people are expected to protect whatever wealth they have, not risk it on a business venture.   But as New Hampshire’s population grows grayer, changing that paradigm could go a long way in keeping the state’s economy strong. 

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