Small Business Week & Senior Entrepreneurship

Once again, it is Small Business Week (Oct.14-20) and across the country since 1979, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has organized this initiative in collaboration with Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade nation-wide. For example where I live, on October 17th, the Oakville Chamber of Commerce annual After Hours & Trade Show takes place, which is one of three events throughout the week.

As we celebrate this week, it is somewhat timely that part of the entrepreneurial narrative should be highlighted, which has another Oakville connection. In the fall of 2017, CERIC a charitable organization that advances education and research in career counselling and career development funded a project led by the Centre for Elder Research at Sheridan College located at the Oakville campus.

Titled “A Study on the Status of Senior Entrepreneurship in Canada: Training Implications for Career Counsellors” the final report is now available online with a CERIC webinar hosted by two of the project leaders – Lia Tsotsos, (now Director at the Centre for Elder Research) and Pat Spadafora, (former Director at the Centre, now at Kaleidoscope Consulting).

On October 4th, in response to this study I wrote an article for CERIC’s blog platform Contact Point, Entrepreneurship on the Career Continuum: Opportunity for Career Services, written with particular attention to some implications for professionals working in the career services field. I came at this reflecting on many enriching years in the career development/transition field, where my advisory and seminar work largely focused on those exploring the entrepreneurship option.

Increasingly over the last eight years, working with those who are on a journey of entrepreneurship in later life, one thing I observed is that (as stated in the Oct 4th blog post):  

… through hundreds of coaching conversations … entrepreneurship can be an imposing or daunting proposition at any age. The issues in starting and running a business are much the same, anything from cash-flow management to executing an effective marketing strategy.”





Another side of the tale, so-called “senior entrepreneurship”.

While there are people age 50-plus, (often labeled “seniorpreneur”), for instance, leaving a full-time corporate job to start a business, or engaging in entrepreneurial endeavours from Uber-like services to knowledge-based consulting to social entrepreneurship there are also people age 50-plus who have built and run a small business creating employment to others for many years.

Some of these business owners will have transitioned from corporate jobs over a decade ago. Along with entrepreneurs at any age, you might likely find several of them with a booth at the Oakville Small Business Week trade show, but I’m not sure any of them will have a badge on their forehead that says “seniorpreneur” on it. Their focus will have nothing to do with their age – they will be there to promote their business.

Yet, everyone who has been running a business for years got started with support (financial or otherwise), and from my experience, they will be proud to share their success story, and if you ask, they will also tell you the start-up struggles they encountered. What did the Sheridan study on senior entrepreneurship reveal when they asked the question “did you access services to assist you?” Where did these aspiring, new or established older adult entrepreneurs go for support?

“The top service providers that respondents engaged with to assist them were small business enterprise centres, banks, and chambers of commerce and economic development offices (tied for third most accessed provider). It should be noted though that most individuals reported accessing multiple service providers as part of their search for support.” (Page 8 of the study) 

There is another nod to the role of a Chamber of Commerce and network groups found in the study:

“Participants reported value in joining their local chambers of commerce and women’s groups in order to meet other business owners to share expertise, receive and provide peer support in addition to opportunities to promote their business.” (Page 12 of the study)

The days of discomfort around technology and business shall pass

One last interesting note to make from this study is with respect to technology; interesting in that it ties into the 2018 Small Business Week theme – Digitize now: Transform your business. As the BDC underscored message suggests, In an increasingly connected, automated and data-driven world, businesses need to embrace new technologies or risk falling behind.”

A very strong message to consider in light of what the Sheridan study mentioned regards technology. Followed by the statement “…life-long learning and the need to be adaptable in a working world that is constantly changing was identified as being very important.” – came this:

“The participants also recognized the importance of the role of technology in operating their business. Some reported being very comfortable with learning new applications while others felt challenged and even blocked and resentful about having to use it.” (Page 12 of the study)

In upcoming years, this declaration of discomfort around technology and business for a new wave of 50-plus entrepreneurs will dissipate and indeed pass away. Right now however, to some degree, certain types of entrepreneurial activity other than starting a small business do not involve sophisticated technology systems, but even people such as independent consultants who are simply creating a job for themselves need to leverage technology in some way.

All this and more into account, if our fast future journey in entrepreneurial adventures grows in the years ahead for anyone at any age, it will be more exhilarating, challenging and innovative, no matter what form and scalability it takes. How it integrates into our lives, micro business or small business, entrepreneurship will by force of evolution have to lean toward more of an intergenerational exchange and avoiding an unnecessary distraction, if we’re smart, we won’t need that senior designation.

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