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Older Entrepreneurs Learn The Ropes

Jacqueline Whitehead has operated a special needs catering business out of her Belleville home for years and she’s ready to “take it to another level,” she says. The 52-year-old cook and caterer signed up for the Encore Entrepreneur workshop, offered at TechTown in Detroit on Oct. 2, to learn more about creating a business plan, doing market research and getting financial assistance for Meal Therapy, her small business.

See Also: Work Reimagined

“Everything I was looking for to help me get started is here,” she said. “I’m so excited by this I’m almost in tears.”

Whitehead was among 50 older entrepreneurs who attended the workshop, sponsored by AARP and the Small Business Administration. This is a strategic alliance intended to address a growing trend: entrepreneurship among experienced American workers.

New research shows that one in four Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 are interested in starting their own business or nonprofit venture in the next five to 10 years.

Right now, more than ever, AARP members need help finding and keeping jobs. Nearly 2 million Americans 50 and older are unemployed. To make matters worse, it takes an older individual much longer to find a job than their younger counterpart – those under 55 spend roughly 36 weeks searching for employment while those over 55 spend 53 weeks looking for work.

Self-employment increasingly is becoming an attractive alternative for those who have expertise and a passion to launch their own business.

Participants in the Encore Entrepreneur session in Detroit learned valuable lessons about transferring their passion into a viable small business.

“Is it hard work? Yes. Does it require 32 hours a day? Yes,” said Tom Raymond of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).

He also spoke on the value of free or low cost secondary market research. “Let’s sit down and ask the right questions. Does your business make sense in this market area? Do you have a product people want?”

Nancy Grose, business development specialist for the SBA in Michigan, covered available small business loans.

“(The loan program) doesn’t make a bad deal good, but it makes a good deal just outside of bank policy doable,” she said.

Thomas Kimble, adviser to the AARP Michigan Executive Council, stressed the importance of entrepreneurs promoting themselves.

“If we don’t talk about ourselves, talk about our brand, no one else will,” Kimble said. “And we have to learn the language of business.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the AARP/SBA partnership or upcoming programs for starting a business at 50-plus, contact Melissa Seifert, AARP Michigan Associate State Director for Economic Security and Work, at 517-267-8934.
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