What We Do
by AARP Foundation, January 28, 2021
Andrew Ziccardi, AARP Foundation Work for Yourself@50+ program participant
It was Andrew Ziccardi’s last call of the day, and it was hot.
This was August 2010, and Andrew had a job selling durable medical equipment, which included delivering the equipment to clients and training them how to use it. But on this Chicago afternoon, the humidity overwhelmed his client — a woman in her 80s — as she tried out her new walker. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and held it up to him.
“Andy,” she said, “I can’t open these. Can you open it for me?” As he twisted the cap off, it dawned on Andrew that his client probably wasn’t the only senior who struggled to uncap a water bottle.
“I have an 89-year-old mom, and she has difficulties, too,” he remembers thinking.
That realization set Andrew on an unexpected path. Five years of research later, he developed the Ergo Opener, a small tool that fits over bottle caps and enables people with hand-strength issues to open water bottles with ease. Portable, recyclable, and made in the USA, the Ergo Opener is engineered to let users open about 95% of generic water bottles.
Entrepreneurs like Andrew are brimming with ideas and motivation. Often, though, they need help getting their ideas off the ground.
For Andrew, that help came in the form of AARP Foundation’s free Work for Yourself@50+ workshop, taught at Northeastern Illinois University by a childhood friend of his. The workshop centers on the Five Simple Steps to Get You Started toolkit, which includes detailed lesson plans and worksheets. Participants gain free tools, resources and guidance, as well as connections to peers and to additional program support.
Andrew says the workshop emphasized the importance of doing extensive market research on his prospective industry. From there, he learned how to refine his business model and develop a full-fledged business plan, including, he says, “what I think I’ll generate the first, second and third year. What costs are involved — not only the product and manufacturing, but other things like advertising, trade shows and travel.”
Now, at age 59, the self-described “go-getter” is tirelessly marketing his product, although growth has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. “Just before COVID-19, I had someone who was about to invest the $50,000 I need to get production rolling,” he says. “And then the markets took a big dive and he just pulled out. It was disheartening, but I’m determined, and I keep moving on.”
Things look promising. In October 2021, Andrew brought his Ergo Opener to the Sun City Huntley Consumer Showcase, where he sold about 100 openers and gave out 300 more. “It was all seniors and I loved the feedback I received,” he says. Another vendor at the show said she planned to propose making the Ergo Opener available to all her residents at a nearby assisted living community.
What’s more, the Ergo Opener is now for sale in eight hardware stores and pharmacies in Illinois, and it just became available on Amazon — an exciting development that Andrew hopes will soon enable him to turn his side hustle into a going concern.
“I will pursue this to where I’m successful enough to either pass it on to my children, sell the company, or be semi-retired and work on other projects,” he says. “That’s my dream.”
From artists and shop owners to side hustlers and freelancers, AARP Foundation’s Work for Yourself@50+ has supported more than 26,000 older adults on their self-employment journey. Start your own journey by downloading our free toolkit, which maps out everything you need to know to take the first steps to start your own business. Then join one of our workshops to find out if entrepreneurship is right for you.
Register For Work For Yourself@50+ Workshop
Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others.
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