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Small-Business Owners Get Advice During Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month

AARP and the SBA can help with resources for those looking to start their own company

So you've been laid off and can't find a job. What can you do?

Perhaps it's time to embrace one of your lifelong dreams and start a business of your own.

To ignite your entrepreneurial spirit, AARP and the U.S. Small Business Administration have designated April as "Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month." The goal is to make it easy for you to learn how to get started from successful small-business owners who have been in your shoes.

See also: Be your own boss!

Local in-person mentoring events are taking place across the country, and you can also take part in one of our webinars packed with advice on starting a business.

You might also be inspired by some of the many older Americans who've found success after losing a job.

Sri Rao, a 50-year-old mechanical engineer who had been in charge of the global supply chain at General Motors, took a buyout in 2009 and soon after started a business.

The idea was conceived after his mother-in-law suffered a crippling stroke shortly after he left GM. "All of a sudden, we were facing all these issues you would deal with if a member of your family suddenly lost their mobility," Rao said. That experience led to his idea for SenseAide, a monitoring service that reminds patients to take their prescriptions while reporting the patient's status and progress back to an "online community of caregivers."

He started the company a few months after his mother-in-law's stroke, just as Congress was finalizing the health care reform act. One part of the law seeks to curb Medicare costs by mandating that hospitals will not be paid for treatments for patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge. Readmissions are often caused by the chaos in a patient's home — nobody to coordinate care, and a patient struggling to comply with discharge instructions — so Rao saw immediately that his brainchild could be "a very cost-effective way to provide hospitals with information about what's happening in the patient's home."

Last October, Rao addressed other aspiring entrepreneurs at an AARP-sponsored mentoring event at TechTown, a small-business incubator aimed at creating new possibilities in Detroit, where the unemployment rate soared over 18 percent at the height of the Great Recession. The event, which taught the nuts and bolts of starting a business, was part of a nationwide Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day produced by the joint efforts of AARP and the SBA.

One reason AARP is committed to this idea of encore entrepreneurship is because the Labor Department has said that one in four Americans between ages 44 and 70 is interested in starting a business — in part because laid-off older workers have a hard time finding a job.

Start-ups such as Rao's are also helping reemploy older workers recovering from the recession. But the benefit is mutual: While building SenseAide, Rao says, he's been able to avoid offshore outsourcing because of Detroit's "incredible pool of close-to-retired or just-retired people who were very hands-on at their companies before the outsourcing boom began. They've been able to focus their knowledge at a very, very competitive price, and it's made all the difference."

There is also evidence that small-business owners likely enjoyed the highest level of economic security — higher incomes and more wealth — during the recession. Rao says that he isn't quite there: SenseAide isn't a "sustainable revenue source" because he hasn't tapped the venture capital market yet. He cautions would-be entrepreneurs to plan for a three- or four-year hike to that promised land. "You have to make things work first, then you scale," he says. "But if you're cautious about how you use and deal with money, you'll get that sense of confidence. And if you're ultimately able to create a sustainable revenue source for yourself as well as others, that's a powerful feeling."

Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of the Financial Security team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP's educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial peace of mind in retirement. She can be reached at jsetzfand@aarp.org or on Twitter at @JSetz.

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Video Extra

BOOST YOUR CAREER: Learn how Encore Entrepreneur events and resources helped Marie Etienne, a small-business owner, boost her career.

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