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The rise of the seniorpreneurs

An increasing number of baby boomers are starting new businesses at an age where others might be looking to retire. Networking with likeminded people is a great way to share ideas and learn from others.

Meet the seniorpreneurs — baby boomer business owners who are changing the way we think about work and retirement.

In the 60s and 70s they were the generation who changed the world. Now they’re set to change the way we think about retirement.

Baby boomers across Australia are taking control of their own destinies by starting new businesses at an age where others might be looking to retire. And according to Alex Maritz, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Swinburne Business School, many are driven by a desire to remain active and engaged in a society that doesn’t always give older workers the value they deserve.

“We’ve got a workforce of highly talented, skilled and experienced people who are either unemployed or going to unemployed in their later years,” Maritz explains.

“Our research indicates that many people in this age-group have always wanted to start their own business. By doing so, they can add value to the economy and relieve some of the burden on the tax system. They often have expertise from corporate careers and the best experience of all — from the university of life.”

The value of experience

David Aralette is a typical seniorpreneur. After a successful career in academia and the private sector, with senior roles at Carlton United and Shell, he started a new life as an entrepreneur a little over 12 years ago.

Since then he has set up and run a range of businesses, including a corporate consultancy, an invitation-only wine club, and a pharmaceutical supply business servicing Australian dentists. His most recent venture is a computerised power management system designed to help consumers go off-grid, with a prototype under construction in China.

Aralette says one of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of his entrepreneurial journey has been the opportunity to meet and collaborate with likeminded people who share his passion for creating new enterprises.

“When I first went out on my own, I joined a group of consultants and we met once a month. I worked with some very experienced and interesting people, and a huge number of business opportunities came out of my involvement with the group.”

Today, he devotes a large part of his time to helping other senior entrepreneurs test and refine their ideas.

“Entrepreneurs tend to fall madly in love with their idea! Those of us who have been through the mill can help them go through all the variables and find the risks — and hopefully come with a version that’s more likely to be successful.”

Expert networkers

Bambi Price is a founder and Chief Executive of TelUs2Day, a company dedicated to providing technology services to people over 55. A strong believer in nurturing the talents and experience of older Australians, Price also recognises that not everyone may have the skills they need to start a business on her own.

To help close that gap, Price joined with Professor Maritz and two others in late 2013 to start the not-for-profit social community Seniorpreneurs. Their aim was to provide a forum where older Australians could learn and share their experience in starting new businesses.

The idea was an instant success. “I put it up on [social networking site] Meetup and within about two days I had about 30 people who wanted to come,” Price says.

“We agreed to meet every month, and go through the whole start-up process — from having an idea then turning it into a product or a service, finding out if people will pay for it, then getting help with technology to drive the business.”

Seniorpreneurs now has around 570 members across Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, with regular meetups and events for a growing community of business owners. As well as providing support and policy leadership for senior entrepreneurs, they also hope to start providing finance for promising new ventures.

Price says that specialised support can be invaluable for older Australians starting out in business for the first time.

“So much of the information we see is skewed to the younger generation, rather than being adapted to people with strong industry experience and an established network. Many might just need help understanding how to do a business case or finding out if a business idea is viable.”

“Experience and the right mindset are very important. It’s one of the reasons seniorpreneurs have a much higher success rate than other startups — we know how to draw on the experience of others.”

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