Senior citizenship has traditionally meant a chance to slow down and enjoy the rewards of a long career. But motivated seniors are increasingly viewing their golden years as another beginning—a chance to launch a new business
Retirement? Effat Sedky, 82, doesn’t have time. At an age when many of his peers are winding down, Sedky owns and runs Vancouver Croissant Ltd., a thriving wholesaler of the buttery baked goods, with 12 employees in its Burnaby warehouse. “There’s no way I can stop,” he says, with a shrug. “I will run it as long as I can come to the office.”
He’s part of an emerging trend of older entrepreneurs who start businesses after the age of 55. And he’s got plenty of company, though quantifying the trend precisely is a bit tricky. Statistics Canada doesn’t track how many self-employed waited until their 55th birthday before jumping in, and how many have simply aged into the demographic cohort.
Nevertheless, a few stats are revealing. The number of senior entrepreneurs in B.C. soared by 70 per cent over the past decade, estimates Andrew Ramlo, of Urban Futures, a Vancouver consulting firm. A TD Canada Trust survey from October last year showed a whopping 54 per cent of baby boomers polled have started or are considering starting their own firm. And people 50 and older now account for close to 30 per cent of startups in B.C., more than double the amount seen in the 1990s, according to a CIBC In Focus report from last September.
Ramlo says the sharp increase in the propensity among boomers to be self-employed is likely related to several factors. More people are retiring from careers and, with better overall health than previous generations, they can stay active longer. Life spans have also increased, meaning they have more time to fill. And our diversified provincial economy provides many opportunities for small, service-based business—a favourite of late-blooming entrepreneurs.
“It’s not surprising,” says Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Boomers with the prospect of living into their late 80s may find their financial needs—or dreams—straining their existing resources, she explains. To cover the gap, they turn their accumulated skills, knowledge and contacts into their own businesses.
“In some cases it is necessity,” says Joel Young, founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneur Society, a non-profit serving a region in which the median age is 52. “In other cases, it’s, ‘Gee, I want to do something else with my life.’ You can’t garden and golf all day,” adds the man who describes himself as “69 going on 50.”
Sedky doesn’t have time for either leisure activity. He’s too busy with daily operations at his 6,000-square-foot production facility, which ships croissants to customers throughout Western Canada. Looking back, he says he got into the business because he wasn’t ready to retire: “I couldn’t sit and relax. I wanted something to do.”
He also wanted to be careful with his bank account, having learned a pricey lesson in his first go-around as a senior entrepreneur. After emigrating from Egypt, he started a construction firm at the age of 56, only to see it crumble when the real-estate market imploded. That nightmare left him wary heading into his next venture. “I didn’t want to take chances,” he says.
An existing croissant shop caught his eye and met his criteria. Though he knew nothing about the pastry industry, the business was not capital-intensive, it was small (only two employees at the time), profitable and he could do a lot of the work himself. So at age 65 he bought the business and in the ensuing years has driven a six-fold increase in sales.
For many other senior entrepreneurs, money is the dominant—and often sole—motivation. David Gerry, for example, moved from the non-profit sector into the business world at age 62 because he had bills to pay. “I didn’t have benefits. I didn’t have a pension,” says the co-founder of Insightful Marketing Inc., a Victoria-based Internet-marketing agency. His previous career was personally gratifying, he says, but without a pension plan and with a pay scale that covered household bills and not much more, building a sufficient retirement fund wasn’t possible.
Open since January 2012, Gerry’s business is still in its infancy, which means the hours can be long without much financial reward. He is drawing on personal reserves for now, a step that’s necessary to reach his goal of building Insightful and then selling it to finance retirement.