For Malcolm Woodhouse, who started his first business three years ago, entrepreneurship was an experience for which none of his previous jobs had prepared him.
That’s common for a first-time entrepreneur. The only difference was that Mr. Woodhouse, who co-founded One Earth, which imports and sells artisanal goods from developing countries, is 69.
“Having retired I had a lot of experiences in a lot of different things,” says Mr. Woodhouse, who was once the mayor of Thorold, Ont. “But I really was a rookie when it comes to the business side.”
As older Canadians increasingly stay in the work force past 65, a growing number of them are turning to entrepreneurship instead of retirement.
Canadians older than 50 started more than 25 per cent of new businesses that opened in Canada in the first half of 2012, according a CIBC report. That rate has been increasing – doubling since 1990.
In 2015, Valerie Fox, then 61, left her job as the executive director of the Digital Media Zone (DMZ), a business incubator at Ryerson University, to start The Pivotal Point, a consulting firm that helps other organizations create their own business incubators.
“I think entrepreneurship is a way toward peace, a way toward people enjoying their lives more, because we’re creating more jobs,” she says. “What’s interesting about entrepreneurship is that it blurs the line between work, life and play.”
Her two children were grown, and successful in their careers, her house was paid off and her husband had recently retired.
“We don’t need as much money, so that means I can take a bit of a risk by starting a company,” she says.
Ms. Fox says she’s always been attracted to entrepreneurship. She started her first business in the 1980s.
She later started working for IBM. Even there, and later at Ryerson, she says she’s always had the opportunity to be entrepreneurial in her work.
While Ms. Fox says she’s still working 50 to 60 hours a week, that’s a bit less than when she was at the DMZ and worked more than 70 hours a week, she says.
In total, 13 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 55 and 64 were either in the process of starting a new business or had started one within the previous 42 months, according to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an international study on entrepreneurship. Among Canadians aged 65 and older, 4 per cent were actively engaged in new entrepreneurial activity.
A number of factors push older Canadians to start their own businesses, says Wanda Morris, the vice-president of advocacy at CARP, a lobby group that represents the interests of plus-50 people.
Low interest rates have made it harder for people to live off of their retirement savings, pushing people to work longer, she says. At the same time, some older people who have lost their jobs through layoffs have struggled to find employment.
Some, though, are doing it because they want to.
“We’ve heard a number of times about people retiring and then being bored,” she says.
Older entrepreneurs also face some unique challenges that other entrepreneurs don’t necessarily face.
The long hours required to get a business off the ground can be challenging for seniors, and Ms. Morris warns that starting a business isn’t an answer to financial problems.
“What we know from many older workers is that they really want to stay in the work force, but they are interested in doing so on a part-time, limited-work schedule or on a seasonal work schedule,” she says. “Usually, when we look at what makes companies really successful, it’s often a very driven entrepreneur who’s willing to work for minimum wage or less to get the business going.”
For some older entrepreneurs, co-founding a company with a younger colleague can be a way to take advantage of both energy and experience.
Kurt Lynn was 59 in 2010 when he met Mohamed Hage, who was in his late 20s. Both had founded businesses in the past and they saw an opportunity to work together, Mr. Lynn says.
The two founded Lufa Farms, a Montreal-based company that builds rooftop greenhouses and delivers the produce to customers.
“We looked at lots of different alternatives before settling on rooftop agriculture,” Mr. Lynn says. “Then it became a question of planning, because no one had done it other than on a demonstration basis.”
Mr. Lynn says that he and Mr. Hage each brought a different thing to the table. “He’s got the energy, I don’t,” he says. “I have the experience, he didn’t. Those things complement.”
That energy is important. “Ventures are consuming,” he says. “It is exhausting; it truly is.”
Mr. Lynn is still helping to create new businesses. He’s working as a consultant with a retail business as well as with a First Nation that wants to create a wireless Internet service.
“What I enjoy, and what I am always motivated to do, is building,” he says. But now that he’s a little older, he can pick and choose what kinds of businesses he builds.
Mr. Woodhouse from One Earth also started his business with a younger business partner, his daughter Terri-Lynn Woodhouse.
That was important, he says, because their company does all of its advertising online or through word of mouth.
While it was a learning experience, having a diverse career helped him prepare for that.
“Being older, and more experienced in life in general, prepares you better to take on something of this magnitude,” he says. “You know how to gain knowledge, you know not to panic.”
Listen to the real-life dramas of Canadian entrepreneurs in the new Globe and Mail podcast The Risk Takers.
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