“In Australia about a third of new entrepreneurs and start ups are aged 55, 60-plus, which is quite a dynamic thing,” said Dr Alex Maritz.
Dr Alex Maritz, from LaTrobe University, has conducted several studies on older people starting their own businesses.
He said senior entrepreneurs were partially born from necessity.
“They had to start new businesses in order to feed themselves and to look after the younger generation,” he said.
Dr Maritz said looking at the economic contribution of older people in start-ups was a new field of study, but the impact was becoming more evident.
He said there was a myth that older people would struggle creating businesses in an increasingly digital-reliant world, where so much work happened on social media.
“People think that is technology savvy,” he said.
“That is not technology savvy — that is just a different way of communicating. Seniors are generally technology savvy.”
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A global trend
Seniorpreneurship is becoming a global phenomenon. In the United States, nearly a quarter of new ventures in 2013 were started by those aged 55 to 64, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation entrepreneurship think tank. Remarkably, Americans in that age bracket are starting businesses at a higher rate than those in their twenties or thirties.
The United Kingdom is also active in seniorpreneurship. Several policy initiatives are lifting its entrepreneurship activity and helping older people create their job. The UK’s PRIME initiative, for example, helped unemployed people over 50 find work through self-employment.
Australia, by comparison, lacks entrepreneurship policies and initiatives in the 50-plus market. Our governments tend to focus on younger entrepreneurs or on retraining older workers so they can apply for another job.
There has been little recognition of the potential of older Australians to participate in startups and turn them into larger businesses that employ people. Or of the need for older Australians to create their next job, not only apply it.
As the population ages and more workers are displaced by technology, a stronger culture of entrepreneurship is needed. It must not exclude older workers as they have knowledge, networks and access to resources that younger entrepreneurs often do not.
SELF-EMPLOYMENT MAY BE ONLY OPTION
“The concept of seniorpreneurship, or ‘grey’ entrepreneurship, is much bigger than most people realise,” says Michael Schaper , deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a noted entrepreneurship academic who has co-authored numerous papers on the trend.
“The trouble is, most of the support networks set up to help business owners are geared towards younger people. It is not a deliberate bias, but it exists, and it makes it harder for older business owners who want to launch a business.”
The rise of seniorpreneurship is timely. The number of people aged 65 or over is expected to more than double from 3.2 million in 2012, to 6.8 million by 2040, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Yet there are barely any federal government policy initiatives aimed at stimulating entrepreneurship among older people, and scant local academic research on the topic.
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