Encore Entrepreneurialism

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Plenty of support is available for post-retirement business ventures.

It took Gerald Williams about four years before retirement peace lost its luster.

“You can only cut down so many trees before you decide you want to do something with your brain again,” says Williams, who retired at 50 years old, after 20 years with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The U.S. Army service-disabled veteran and his wife moved from Oklahoma City to a quiet country environment in the Claremore area to be closer to their grandchildren, post-retirement. By 2001, however, Williams was restless.

“I surprised my wife one morning. We were on the front porch watching birds and critters and country things and I told her I thought maybe it was time to move back to the city and to start a business. Having been in the military, she was used to (frequently moving).”

The decision made, a return to Oklahoma City preceded the launch of Williams’ Interim Solutions for Government (ISG). What was first envisioned as a home-based business to provide support services to the federal government has grown to 190 employees with more than $13 million in revenue.

Williams has been enjoying his second act.

“It’s beyond success for us. It’s trying to provide good products and services.”

Williams, 65, is hardly alone in being an “encore entrepreneur,” as post-retirement business launchers have been dubbed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2016, workers 65 and over will account for 6.1 percent of the labor force, a dramatic increase from 2006 when that percentage was 3.6. A combination of factors is prompting many older Americans to continue working past retirement age, and others to return to the workplace as entrepreneurs.  

“New research found that one in four Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 are interested in starting their own business or nonprofit venture in the next five to 10 years,” says Yolanda Garcia Olivarez, SBA Region 6 administrator.

Older entrepreneurs have certain advantages. Williams and other older entrepreneurs benefit from the experiences of their lifetimes – both professional knowledge and awareness and personal experience. Utilizing that experience and pre-existing relationships are key components to a successful post-retirement business startup, according to a 2009 U.S. News and World Report tip sheet. Other tips include to make sure to locate startup capital, to understand and plan for long hours, to keep initial costs low and to make sure to have a backup plan in case things don’t go as optimistically envisioned.

Other advice abounds as well, including for seniors to follow their passions in determining their post-retirement enterprise.

Williams had plenty of knowledge of government contracting, from the government end. Tapping into his network of former colleagues and friends, he says he was able to learn the contractor end of the business. He had an understanding of training operations from his years at the FAA and delivering those services as a contractor was his passion and plan.

“For me, this was critical to the thought process I went through,” Williams says.

“Focus on one particular thing and know what you are going to do, but also be realistic in your expectations…"

Williams also tapped into resources available to new entrepreneurs, whatever the age. The SBA was key.

“They were very helpful,” he says. “The principle thing was the availability of SBA loans.”  

ISG was also able to operate practically rent-free at the Fred Jones Business Development Center (an Oklahoma-certified Small Business Incubator) for almost five years.

Numerous organizations can help new entrepreneurs, including Oklahoma’s chambers of commerce.

“Through our Small Business Development Center, we have a full-time employee who is here to help from A to Z,” says Heather Davis, executive director, Small Business, Tulsa Metro Chamber. “From writing a business plan to connecting you to financial institutions to budgets and more.”
SourceLink Tulsa, powered by the Tulsa Metro Chamber, provides a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and small business owners looking for business-building services. Through a searchable database or personal phone assistance, entrepreneurs can easily get connected with the free services chamber partners have readily available.  

“It’s like one-stop shopping for entrepreneurs,” Davis says.

Recognizing the trend, the SBA in Oklahoma offers support tailored to older audiences. SBA and AARP will host National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day on Oct. 2 to help entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs who are 50 plus to start or expand their business.
“For many baby boomers, entrepreneurship training is the toolkit that empowers them to use their experience, knowledge and skills to become job creators,” Olivarez says. “Entrepreneurship training focuses on helping experienced professionals leverage their career knowledge for a new business.

“In Region 6, we have 115 small business development center locations, 71 SCORE Chapters and Satellite offices and 10 women’s business centers who can provide one-on-one assistance,” she continues. “Visit sba.gov and type in your zip code to find a counselor near you.” 

Even with the advantages he had, Williams points out that ISG didn’t have its first contract for three years, which spotlights his final advice: “Focus on one particular thing and know what you are going to do, but also be realistic in your expectations and know that all businesses had their time of struggle.”

Williams says he doesn’t see himself retiring again.

“This has been very gratifying.”

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