Starting Up Later in Life: Q&A with Leading Authority on Encore Entrepreneurship

With life spans increasing, the person who retires at 65 may have several decades of life ahead of them. Instead of spending that time on a golf course or an endless vacation, many older Americans are launching businesses, often with a desire to solve a social problem or to fill a need they’ve witnessed firsthand. Marci Alboher, author of the “Encore Career Handbook” and vice president at Encore.org, a nonprofit advancing movement around second acts for the greater good, calls this encore entrepreneurship.

According to an Encore Careers study funded by the MetLife Foundation and released in 2011, approximately 25 million people (one in four Americans ages 44 to 70) are interested in starting their own business or nonprofit organization in the next five to 10 years.

We caught up with Alboher to discuss the challenges and opportunities of encore entrepreneurship and how to get started. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

StartupNation: What is encore entrepreneurship?

Marci Alboher: We’re looking at people who are choosing to start their own ventures in mid or later life, that are not just business, but are also social-mission focused.

What would be an example?

Marci Alboher
(Marci Alboher)

Alboher: There’s a huge wave of businesses that are in the longevity economy that fit this bill, where people are designing businesses around helping people address issues related to aging, such as caregiving-related services or remodeling homes for aging in place.

For my book, I interviewed a couple who started a business called Care to Go. They provided travel companions for older people who were unable to fly on their own or people who are uncomfortable with solo air travel. It was a business started by a retired pilot and his wife, who had quite a lot of experience with caregivers in her life. Together, they came up with this idea that really matched both of their skills and prior experiences. It was informed by a social need that they saw right under their nose.

Why become an encore entrepreneur?

Alboher: Lots of people reach a point in their life where they really want to control their work life. They may be really ready to kind of call their own shots. I think that’s one of the reasons why entrepreneurship is attractive to young people, but it’s obviously one of the reasons why it’s attractive to older people.

At both ends of the age spectrum, age has something to do with that motivator toward entrepreneurship. Young people often feel like they may not be taken seriously and that they don’t want to kind of climb up in the ranks. A lot of them move into entrepreneurship because of a certain kind of age discrimination that they feel in the workplace. I think the same is true for older people. A lot of older people feel like once they hit their fifties or sixties, it’s so hard to find the next job. I often find Boomer parents and their millennial kids being attracted to startups for the same yet different reasons.

People have always loved to solve problems, but I think today there is an enormous interest in people of all ages in purpose and impact.


Related: What Gen X and Baby Boomers Can Learn From Millennials

How might an entrepreneur fill in gaps in his or her interests, skills or experience?

Alboher: One strategy that we see quite a lot is partnering with people of other generations. We’re seeing inter-generational social entrepreneurship in so many instances. In fact, we saw several examples of this in the 10 years we operated The Purpose Prize, a social innovation award (now run by AARP) for social innovators over the age of 60.

One of our 2015 $100,000-prize winners was House Calls for the Homebound, which is exactly what the name suggests! It was started by a physician in his seventies, along with his son-in-law, probably in his forties, and his grandson in his twenties. They’re a great example of generations coming together around a social venture, bringing what each provides that’s unique, and helping each other fill gaps.


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What are some tips for encore entrepreneurs who are just getting started?

Alboher: Don’t start off thinking you have to invent something new. Spend quite a lot of time seeing what’s out there before deciding it’s time for a new venture. There are scores of social ventures, nonprofits and businesses already working on every possible issue, and the right time to start your own is when you’ve surveyed the field, understood all the players, and still feel that some need is not being met.

If you’ve never started your own venture before, find a way to learn or apprentice under someone else. See if there is a way to learn from others, to hone your skills, especially if this is new for you. Of course, if you’re already a social entrepreneur, those things may not be necessary.

Think about what’s the right business model for your venture, especially if you’re looking at a venture that’s both about earning money and solving a social problem. Should it be a nonprofit? Should it be a for-profit? Should it be a hybrid? It’s important to kind of learn about the different business models and which ones are appropriate for which kinds of ventures and which would be appropriate for your venture.

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