When you see the word entrepreneur, you likely think of someone in their 20s or 30s having the latest and greatest idea that will generate millions of dollars, and then be acquired by a large conglomerate. You probably didn't picture one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs in Canada today: people over the age of 50.
Why the surge in older entrepreneurship? In part, demographics. The recent release of the Canada 2016 Census indicates there are more people aged 55 to 64 than people aged 15 to 24.
Many people can't wait to retire. They want to golf, travel or just take it easy. Others can't wait to retire so they can start the business they have always dreamed about. Some do it to make the world a better place, others because of the money – whether it is to supplement a pension, or because they don't have a pension and haven't saved enough money during their working years. Seniors are living longer and want to stay healthy by keeping both the body and brain active.
Sure, some older entrepreneurs have money to finance their businesses, but many lack financing and support. They are expected to use their pension (if they have one), their savings (if they have any) or their house as collateral.
Meanwhile, there are numerous startup programs for young entrepreneurs – and they certainly don't require homes as collateral. For instance, Futurpreneur Canada offers collateral-free loans at lower interest rates than most banks. It will finance businesses with owners up to the age of 39 to a maximum of $15,000. An additional $30,000 may be available through the Business Development Bank of Canada, a Futurpreneur partner. Both offer interest-only payments for the first year. Many other government-backed financing programs for entrepreneurs focus on youth.
It appears the experienced group of new entrepreneurs has fallen between the cracks. Employment and Social Development Canada, which is responsible for seniors, doesn't have any programs to assist entrepreneurs.
Government leaders need to understand that the word entrepreneur encompasses everyone, regardless of age and what type of business is being started. They could start by broadening retirement programs to include information on starting a business later in life.
Broadening the Futurpreneur program age limit – to allow the inclusion of intergenerational businesses – would help. An intergenerational business brings together skills from two different age groups, which can make for a successful company. Guidelines should include the option of funding an intergenerational business when one of the owners is older than 50. Another option would be for the government to create a new intergenerational program where the two different age groups and skill sets come together to create a business. The National Seniors Council, which advises the federal government, could also start focusing on entrepreneurship as an emerging issue.
It's time for government to realize it has been ignoring a valuable resource to the startup community: older entrepreneurs. They bring both skills and experience to their businesses, and create mentorship opportunities and jobs.
Wendy Mayhew is the founder of Wise-Seniors in Business and the WISE 50 over 50 Awards.