Overlooked Aspects of Inclusion in Ecosystem Building, Part 1

By Rich Bailey

This article is the first in a three-part series covering sometimes overlooked aspects of inclusion in entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Conversations about inclusion often focus on race and gender, but those factors—while vital—are not the only dimensions of inclusion that may need to be addressed. Part one considers age inclusion.

Age Inclusion in Entrepreneurship

People over 50 are likely to be overlooked as potential entrepreneurs, yet also make up a growing percentage of new entrepreneurs. 

In 2007, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously—or infamously, depending on your perspective—said “Young people are just smarter.” And that’s not really a minority opinion. Entrepreneurs are commonly stereotyped as young and precocious “digital natives” using technology to create a market-disrupting company. The reality is actually far from that stereotype.

In 2018, the average age of startup founders nationwide was 42, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research by the Kauffman Foundation found that Baby Boomers are starting businesses at a higher rate than millennials. In 2017, rates of new entrepreneurship at age 45-54 were more than 50 percent greater than at age 20-34.

Older entrepreneurs have some obvious advantages over young ones, such as deeper work experience and greater personal and family assets to draw from. At the same time, many entrepreneur supports are geared toward younger people. As a result, opportunities are not evenly distributed. Resources are aimed at younger people and at helping entrepreneurs overcome obstacles that are characteristic of youth, rather than age.

Work for Yourself@50+

Work for Yourself@50+ is a workshop for older entrepreneurs created by AARP Foundation.

One program that helps older people who are considering entrepreneurship is Work for Yourself@50+℠, from AARP Foundation. With 38 million members age 50 or older, AARP is “the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age.” As AARP’s charitable affiliate, AARP Foundation serves both AARP members and nonmembers.

Entrepreneurship is an economic necessity for many people after age 50, but older adults with limited income may have difficulty finding information about starting a business. AARP Foundation and The Hartford came together to address this gap in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. The result was Work for Yourself@50+, which helps older adults determine whether entrepreneurship is right for them and provides step-by-step information on how to start a business and generate income.

Work for Yourself@50+ helps people over age 50 explore self-employment in today’s economy through five steps:

  • Step 1: Explore Your Options—A look at different types of self-employment to learn more about the many options and decide if self-employment is right for them. 
  • Step 2: Find Your Focus—Information, exercises, and checklists help pinpoint areas of interest.
  • Step 3: Make a Plan—A realistic overview of startup considerations, strategies, and preliminary steps required for successfully moving onto the self-employment track. 
  • Step 4: Watch Out for Trouble—Tips on how to avoid major pitfalls and stumbling blocks along the road to self-employment.
  • Step 5: Find Support—Guidance on finding the best services and supports for successful self-employment. 

After exploring these five steps, participants receive guidance on how to take action and where to find resources to make self-employment a success.

Since the program’s launch in 2016, AARP Foundation has worked with more than 30 organizations in 40 urban and rural communities to provide guidance, coaching, and peer support to more than 10,000 entrepreneurs over age 50. Of those, 70 percent were women and 46 percent were people of color.

Retirement is Changing

Aliza Sir, AARP Foundation

“What we see is that retirement is changing,” says Aliza Sir, Director of Income Security Initiatives at AARP Foundation. “People are working longer, whether they need to make retirement savings stretch longer or because they don’t have retirement savings at all. People need to find ways to earn extra money.”

She finds that many older entrepreneurs may come to the idea of starting a business out of necessity—following a job loss or involuntary retirement, after discovering that they need more income than they had planned after retirement, after experiencing age discrimination when they attempted to find a new job, or because caregiving responsibilities for a parent, spouse, or partner mean they need more flexible employment.

“People want opportunities to leverage the expertise they have developed throughout their careers and put it into working for themselves.” —Aliza Sir, AARP Foundation 

Rather than starting high-growth potential companies, she sees many older entrepreneurs starting lifestyle businesses to establish personal income flexibility. She also sees many of the participants in the Work for Yourself@50+ program starting businesses that give back to the community.

“Many of the businesses people are starting are aimed at supporting the 50+ demographic, so that creates a double bottom line for us as an organization in making people feel they are supported,” she says. “Another initiative we focus on is social connectedness and social isolation, which research shows is a greater health risk than obesity. Our older folks that are starting businesses are building networks and staying healthier, but they’re staying close to home and staying with what they know.”

The Work for Yourself@50+ program is accessible in two forms: a two-hour face-to-face workshop and a downloadable toolkit. People can download the toolkit and find workshops here.

“The biggest takeaway we see is that the people who go through the program know whether or not self-employment is right for them, and they feel like they are supported by people they can trust,” says Aliza. “It’s as much of a success if someone figures out that entrepreneurship is not for them, because they have understood the options and made the choice that works for them.”

One 50+ Entrepreneur’s Story

“That booklet is why I’m teaching yoga,” says Peggy Hill, a native New Yorker and former corporate marketing strategist who learned about Work for Yourself@50+ when a representative of the Harlem Business Alliance mentioned the program at an event for entrepreneurs. Before going through the program, her plan was to launch a corporate marketing consultancy building on her professional background. Attending a workshop and completing the exercises in the toolkit convinced her that a business built around her passion for yoga was a better idea.

“I like to teach, I’ll enjoy myself, and I may bring hope to someone. That’s how it evolved,” says Peggy. “The worksheets helped me formulate what it is I should really be doing.”

Throughout her first year after launching her business Yoga With Peggy H, Peggy frequently adjusted and refined her business plan using LivePlan, a business planning tool provided by Work for Yourself@50+.

“I kept going back to the plan,” she says. “I’d say, ‘OK, where was I wrong, how do I bring value to this?’ I had to just keep changing what I had on paper: priorities, targets, break-even, and profit-and-loss assessments. That’s where the work of launching your own business comes in.”

Currently, AARP Foundation and CO.STARTERS are collaborating on a pilot program that positions the Work for Yourself@50+ workshop as an inclusion technique for ecosystem building organizations that want to engage an older audience.