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BOOM! Helps Drive Second Careers

Nonprofit organization helps older people become entrepreneurs

Randal Charlton founded the nonprofit BOOM!, older entrepreneurs

Randal Charlton, founder of BOOM! The New Economy, helps people 50 plus become entrepreneurs. — Brett Carlsen

Randal Charlton, 72, started several businesses during his working career, but his biggest challenges and successes came later in life.

A restaurant he opened in Florida in the 1990s failed; Charlton lost his house as a result. He also lost money on a cattle-ranching enterprise and a book he wrote and published on women's soccer.

See also: 5 businesses you can start.

But Charlton achieved success as the cofounder, in 2000, of Asterand, a human tissue bank used by researchers. The business went public in 2006 and was recently sold for $9 million.

Now Charlton, of Grosse Pointe Farms, wants to help other entrepreneurs 50 and older minimize the lows and maximize the highs he went through and, in the process, help to revitalize Detroit's economy.

Helping displaced workers
So last year Charlton created BOOM! The New Economy, a nonprofit organization that helps older people become entrepreneurs. AARP Michigan helped launch BOOM! and serves as an adviser.

BOOM! provides mentoring and networking services and can draw on other business start-up help from TechTown, a business incubator at Wayne State University.

Charlton said he got the idea for BOOM! while serving as executive director of TechTown from 2007 until last year.

"In 2008, a combination of economic circumstances none of us has ever faced occurred," he said. "The auto industry nearly collapsed," creating a rich supply of potential older entrepreneurs.

Many of those displaced from these companies were longtime employees who were offered buyouts or laid off from their jobs.

"It became clear to us that one of the things we had to think about doing is helping people create their own jobs through start-up companies," said Charlton, who also is a volunteer executive council adviser at AARP Michigan.

"There is a massive number of older people who are physically fit and anxious to do something more than retire."

Jacqueline Morrison, AARP Michigan state director, said starting a business can be a better option for some older workers who don't find success in the job-search market.

Next page: The biggest challenge that older entrepreneurs face in starting new businesses. »

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