Nearly four in 10 older entrepreneurs face gaps in the support they need to launch or develop their businesses, according to a new CERIC-funded study on The Status of Senior Entrepreneurship in Canada. The research report from the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research found that 37% of the respondents aged 50+ had challenges in accessing financial or government support and mentors.

The eight-month study used online surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups to investigate the experiences, needs and interests of 180 senior entrepreneurs around career guidance and support. The study comes at a time when the number of Canadians 50+ represents 37.8% of the total Canadian population as of 2017 and continues to rise. Meanwhile, a 2012 CIBC study found that individuals 50+ make up the fast-growing demographic for start-up founders in Canada, accounting for approximately 30% of the total. Despite these numbers, there has been limited previous research on the “seniorpreneur” trend.

Sheridan’s research explored the differentiated paths that senior entrepreneurs take. The top three reasons entrepreneurs surveyed started a business after 50 were:

  1. Interest in continuing to use their skills,
  2. Needing or wanting to generate a new source of income, and
  3. Wanting greater ownership and control of their work and lifestyle.

The report notes that when asked to rate the importance of the statement “I had to leave my previous employer/career (for any reason),” 48% of respondents identified this as “not applicable,” suggesting that for nearly half of the respondents it wasn’t a push from a previous position that prompted the journey into entrepreneurship but, rather, a pull from a new opportunity.

Sectors and type of business represented by the respondents also varied widely. A quarter of respondents described their business as “consulting,” but other areas represented included technology, social entrepreneurship, communications, arts/design, healthcare, education, community/social services, finance/banking, manufacturing, entertainment, e-commerce, food industry, energy/environment, agriculture, real estate, legal, marketing/branding, pet services, tourism, transportation, fitness and retail. These businesses conducted their operations both online and face-to-face. A key finding was that more than half of respondents (58%) had launched, or actively explored, another business prior to their current business, suggesting the transition to entrepreneur is very much a journey.

The top service providers that senior entrepreneurs engaged with to assist them were small business enterprise centres, banks, chambers of commerce and economic development offices. The study highlights that most individuals reported accessing multiple service providers as part of their search for support. Researchers also flag the respondents who reported that they accessed no services or were completely on their own, speaking to the unique needs of senior entrepreneurs with locating or identifying the best source of assistance.

Respondents, when asked to select which factors most contributed to their success, indicated that what helped them the most was:

  1. Their accumulated work experience and expertise,
  2. Their knowledge of customer needs/service, and
  3. Their perseverance and determination.

Tied for fourth most common response was their willingness to take risks, their reputation and network of contacts, showing that it is a mix of personal characteristics and accumulated skills or resources to which older entrepreneurs credit their success.

Many respondents (40%) reported not facing any age-based discrimination along their entrepreneurial path, instead feeling valued because of their experience. When they did experience discrimination, the two most common scenarios encountered were that services they would have liked to access were only available to youth entrepreneurs, and the process for navigating the “system” as an older entrepreneur was less defined than it was for younger entrepreneurs. When asked how older entrepreneurs could support each other, the top response was that it shouldn’t only be older entrepreneurs supporting each other, but that there should be opportunities for intergenerational mentoring.

Specific recommendations from the report to enhance that state of senior entrepreneurship in Canada include:

  • Standardize programs and services available to support this group and how they are advertised across the country.
  • Design, implement and evaluate innovative models of, and support for, intergenerational mentorship.
  • Consider changing the label “senior entrepreneurs” and, instead, provide supports for all entrepreneurs regardless of age.
  • Enhance communication between various stakeholders who have a vested interest in supporting this group (i.e., policymakers, career development professionals, funders) to ensure consistency of messaging and easier referrals between groups.
  • Advocate for funding and other supports that do not restrict access to resources based on age.
  • Provide career transition services for older workers who are leaving traditional jobs and are considering entrepreneurship as a viable alternative.
  • Design training materials and resources for career development professionals and other service providers to enable them to more effectively support their older clients.
  • Promote the skills, wisdom and experience of older individuals and senior entrepreneurs to all members of our society and work to change the negative perceptions of aging through education.

The immediate goal of the research is to provide career development professionals, financial advisors, life coaches, regional business leaders and others with greater insight to more effectively guide senior entrepreneurs. The researchers hope the broader ramifications of this work on aging and entrepreneurship will help improve current services and supports provided to older entrepreneurs and motivate the creation of new tools that empower older entrepreneurs to achieve success for themselves and contribute to the broader Canadian economy.

CERIC and the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research will host a free one-hour webinar on Tuesday, September 18 to further outline the research findings and their implications. Watch for further details to be posted.