by KIRSTY STEIN
MORE and more seniors faced with mixed messages from government and a growing uncertainty about when and whether to leave the paid workforce are creating their own jobs by starting new businesses.
Swinburne University of Technology’s Alex Maritz, who is leading research into Australia’s senior entrepreneurs in conjunction with National Seniors, said older people were the fastest-growing group in entrepreneurship.
“Older workers in Australia face rising longevity and increasing labour market uncertainty that could lead them to consider entrepreneurship as an increasingly attractive option, with self-employment often regarded as the only option for many,” Dr Maritz said.
“Self-employment and enterprise is being taken as a way of enabling our more mature population to generate income, to remain active and engaged, to feel valued and to make a contribution.”
In Australia, the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found about 8 per cent of the nation’s entrepeneurs came from the 55-64 age group.
In 2011-12, about 590,000 Australian small business owners were over 55, equating to 21 per cent of the country’s small business operators.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development researcher Professor Teemu Kautonen said older people were usually in a better position to start a business than their younger counterparts.
A 2013 OECD report found about 16 per cent of European survey respondents aged 50-64 were considering entrepreneurship as a late career alternative, with more business and life experience, established networks, greater ability to control risk and sometimes better access to capital among the advantages.
Whatever the reason, in the United States more people aged 55 or older now start a business than those in their 20s or 30s, and the trend is growing in Australia.
It is already significantly stronger than in other innovation-driven economies. Dr Maritz said there were strong economic and social reasons for governments to help older people into self-employment.
“It is still early days for seniorpreneurship, but the concept is getting a lot of traction overseas,” he said.
“Governments in Europe recognise that self-employment has an important role in helping people actively age, and reducing unemployment among older workers.
“All the research shows you have more chance of starting a successful business later in life and that starting and running a business, small or large, is a very enriching personal experience.
“Senior entrepreneurs place significant value on non-pecuniary benefits of self-employment, such as lifestyle and health preferences.”
The findings of Dr Maritz’s research, the first study on senior entrepreneurship in Australia, are expected to be published over coming months.
TELUS2DAY founder and seniorpreneur Bambi Price was in her 50s when she founded her business helping older people use technology.
An adjunct industry fellow at Swinburne University, she has established a series of Seniorpreneurs meet-ups across Australia which continue to grow.
Since May last year about 500 senior entrepreneurs have come together regularly, and the group now has branches in South Australia and Sydney.
“We realised there was a massive community out there who through want or necessity were looking at starting their own business,” Bambi said.
Ageism was a major factor driving older people to take charge of their own future, with small business operators among the most likely to show ageist attitudes.
Members who attend the meet-ups have an average age of 60, but range from their 50s to mid-70s.
About a quarter already have their own business.
The group listens to expert speakers and networks to share expertise.
A seniorpreneurs hub, which will provide a physical base, is in the planning and the group is set to become formalised as the Seniorpreneurs Foundation later this year.
Bambi and her team are also working with technology professionals to implement senior-friendly design practices across the industry.