Embracing Experience: Two Sides of the Coin Demystifying Small Business Ownership


  • Tomeka Lee
June 24, 2024 - (4 min read)

Older adults are making waves in small business, whether beginning their entrepreneurial career post-retirement or as part of the indomitable silver tsunami of the Baby Boomer generation. This savvy but oft-overlooked group has served as the backbone of the U.S. economy, employing millions while creating opportunities for wealth generation and business acquisition. They bring a unique blend of experience, expertise and passion to the world of small business by leveraging their skills and resources, creating pathways for successful ventures that harness personal passion.

Encore Entrepreneurship – A Second Act

Encore entrepreneurs, or older adults who start a business after the age of 55, play a crucial role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem by bringing a wealth of experience, skills, and knowledge to the table. While many use age as a benchmark for sunsetting their career, a significant number of entrepreneurs over 55 are defying stereotypes by continuing to contribute to the economy through their businesses, as they bring extensive professional networks, decades of experience, and financial stability to their ventures.

Despite a stereotype that Millennials dominate small business, a 2023 survey of 2600 entrepreneurs and small business owners from Guidant Financial highlighted that Baby Boomers and Gen X account for 39.63% and 47.20%, respectively, make up the majority of small business ownership.

Source: Guidant

Equipped with a wealth of experience, encore entrepreneurs have a unique advantage in the world of business. What do we know?

  • Extensive Professional Networks: Entrepreneurs over 55 have likely built extensive networks of contacts and colleagues. These connections can prove invaluable when starting a new business venture, providing access to resources, a potential consumer base, and opportunities to serve as mentors to younger entrepreneurs.
  • Financial Stability: Many older entrepreneurs have had time to build financial assets and stability throughout their careers. This financial security can serve as a safety net when taking the leap into entrepreneurship. This includes retirement funds that allow them to invest in personal ventures, decreasing the burden of securing capital from an outside funding source.
  • Passion and Purpose: For encore entrepreneurs, starting a new business venture isn’t just about making money but also aligning their goals and creating an opportunity to pass along generational assets. Free from the constraints of traditional employment, older entrepreneurs can pursue projects that align with their interests and values and create avenues for financial security for future generations.

The Silver Tsunami: Navigating the Other Side of the Coin

In contrast to the rise of encore entrepreneurship, the U.S. is also faced with the pending Silver Tsunami, a term coined to highlight the mass retirement of business owners that encompass the Baby Boomer generation. The impending population shift, characterized by the retirement of thousands of small business owners in the coming decade, carries significant implications for both the economy and the workforce.

As these seasoned entrepreneurs retire, the successful transition of their businesses will vastly impact the economy. This transition is not merely a matter of passing the torch to new owners but ensuring the vitality of these enterprises within their respective communities. The economic landscape stands to undergo considerable transformation, as the departure of these business owners can create vacancies in various sectors, potentially leading to job losses and economic disruptions. Moreover, the accumulated wealth and knowledge embedded within these businesses represent invaluable assets that, if not effectively transferred, could be lost, impacting not only the individual businesses but also the broader economic ecosystem.

Proactive measures are essential to navigate this transition successfully. Encouraging and supporting succession planning initiatives can facilitate the smooth transfer of ownership and management responsibilities to the next generation of capable successors. Access to resources such as mentorship programs, financial assistance, and training opportunities can equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools they need to sustain and grow these businesses.

Ultimately, whether moving to follow a passion project by starting a second career in small business or reaping the benefits of retirement, older adults serve as an invaluable component of the economy. The transition of small businesses in the face of this demographic shift is not only an opportunity to support small business ownership but also an opportunity to benefit from the wisdom that accompanies age and experience.

About the Author

Tomeka Lee

About the Author

Tomeka Lee is a Program Manager for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at National League of Cities.