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Demographics, Wealth, Resiliency Add Up To More Over-Fifty Entrepreneurs

Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

What’s a classic profile of an entrepreneur? Smart, prone to risk and under the age of thirty. 

Steve Young of StreetWize Technologies personifies some of those qualities, except he’s a 56-year old starting a new business aimed at older motorcycle riders.

Young takes his fiery orange Harley Davidson touring bike out for a spin near his shop in Nashua. Soon he’ll install a product in the bike that you can’t see: a hidden third wheel. 

He and a business partner are marketing what he calls a dual glide conversion kit for a specific type of customer.

"It will probably be an older crowd, someone that has physical disabilities from the lack of strength on their legs for holding the bike up."

Young says his conversion kit gives riders an alternative to trikes, those three-wheeled motorcycles with the wide back ends that he says take the fun out of riding.

"Our idea is something that would still allow you to lean the bike into corners, but when you're going slowly or you stop, the bike stays upright."

The product caters to a demographic that wants as much joy in the second stage of life as in the first.

"There's massive potential in this aging marketplace," says Peter Hubbell. He heads a company that studies the aging consumer market.

Hubbell says the boomer generation is the wealthiest in history.

"According to Nielson and U.S. Census data, in five years, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be fifty and older and they'll control 70 percent of the country's disposable income. And, they stand to inherit some 15 trillion dollars over the next twenty years."

I failed at so many things in my life, I'm not afraid anymore because I know I will come back. The most important thing a senior entrepreneur brings to the table is that incredible sense of resilience.

Hubbell doesn’t mean to imply that all seniors are living comfortably off their retirement funds. Most of them — whether out of passion or necessity — will continue to work. And many will do so as self-employed individuals.

Elizabeth Isele is the founder of Senior Entrepreneurship Works, a national non-profit that helps people over 50 create new ventures.

Isele, an entrepreneur at age 72, says that seniors fear risk less than any other age group. She says they say, "Well, I failed at so many things in my life, I'm not afraid anymore because I know I will come back. The most important thing a senior entrepreneur brings to the table is that incredible sense of resilience."

"The worst that can happen is that I can fail."  Pattie Hayes of Henniker is in her 50's. She left her full-time job at a home health aid agency. Now she’s using her experience to launch a consulting serviceto help adult children manage legal and medical care for their elderly parents.

Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR
Patti Hayes left a full-time job to launch her consulting business.

"It's actually my goal to have launched this company for less than a few thousand dollars." When asked if she feels she will turn a profit, Hayes says, "If I can replace my annual income and have flexibility, then I will have accomplished my goal from a business standpoint."

Hayes says the timing is right. Her youngest child graduated college. Her husband is working. These aren’t the only reasons Hayes’ timing is on the mark. New Hampshire’s rankingas the third oldest population in the countrycreates areas of growth for businesses like Hayes.

Todd Fahey directs New Hampshire's AARP office. He says by 2020, the state’s 65-plus population is expected to reach twenty percent. And by 2040, close to thirty percent.  

"I do think there's going to be a great opportunity to start businesses in New Hampshire to serve that demographic," Fahey says. "There's a space for some type of innovation and a place to service a need that is not already being serviced."

The aging market is loaded with potential.

Elizabeth Isele of Senior Entrepreneurship Works says the seniors who cultivate it are not without their challenges. For example, they may lack a network of supports. She says business incubators often target the young.

"What we need is not separate incubators and accelerators for seniors, but we need to integrate seniors so that the senior can mentor the young entrepreneur with their life and work skills experience and the young entrepreneur can mentor the senior with their social media and technology skills."

Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR
Steve Young's invention is designed to modify bikes for older riders or those with disabilities.

Meanwhile, back at StreetWize Technologies, Steve Young works independently. Young is investing around fifty thousand dollars of his own funds, mostly for patents and materials.

"I can see this thing going far, a multi-million dollar company. And we're probably going to employ close to thirty people by the time this thing is up and running."

Seniors may be launching start-ups at a higher rate than any other age group. But if they’re also creating jobs, multiple generations reap the rewards.

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ
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