50+ Entrepreneurs Have Abundant Wisdom

Maturity, Wisdom, and Confidence

Question- What makes seniors more likely to succeed in business?

Earle, L (2003) in “Background to Productive Aging” found a factor that will exert an impact upon grey entrepreneurial tendencies is the broader social context within which the individual operates.  some societies value aging and believe that older individuals have great wisdom and experience that is an important asset; others treat the aged as largely incapable and dependent persons with little left to contribute.  If a society is supportive of independent entrepreneurs as part of what is termed “productive aging”, then more individuals are likely to start or run businesses than would otherwise be the case. (Earle, 2003)

Baucus D, and Human, S.E. (1994) also provide evidence of the impact of strong networks in assisting the startup process, and suggest that such personal links can help older entrepreneurs gain both financial and marketing support.

Adequate capital to support venture formation is a key contingency in the success of entrepreneurs at any age.


C. Kumar and N. Patel, 72 years old- the inventor of the carbon dioxide laser, the holder of 38 patents, and the former head of the Physics and Engineering departments of Bell Labs- where he worked for 32 years- started his own small business.  Then 62, Patel sank $150,000 of his savings into launching his own company: Pramalytica.

“I guess I was trying to relive my youth,” he says, “I was doing something that I had not done before.”

However; Patel quickly realized that despite his vast experience he still had a lot to learn about starting his own firm.  Initially, Patel’s Santa Monica, California startup developed sensors that could analyze human breath for disease.  He shifted direction after realizing physicians preferred to lease rather than purchase such instruments and funding evaporated following the dot-com bust.  He then began making ammonia detection sensors for federal and state environmental protection agencies.  This led to a $13 million military contract to create a device that could detect nerve gas.  Awarded an additional contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the company now makes small lasers to destroy shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles.

Plus 50 Trends

A growing number of baby boomers are creating and building their own business.  The annual entrepreneurial activity report published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found the share of new entrepreneurs ages 55-64 grew from 14.3% in 1996 to 23.4% last year.  Part of the growth is the result of the overall aging of North America.  But experts say older people are flocking to self-employment because of a frustrating job market and the growing ease and falling cost of starting a business.

But even if they don’t get paid, “older adults want to remain connected, relevant, useful and engaged.  There’s this collective feeling of ‘we’re not done yet,’ says Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook.

Fly In The Ointment

I agree that the Youth today will need significant help if the current unemployment rate for younger people stays high or reduces only marginally.  But at the same time both government sources and venture capitalists are currently flocking to help the Youth (18-34) with the required supply of mentors and financing.  The fly in the ointment is the same sources are pre-judging and labelling ‘older entrepreneurs’ as being too old to go back to work or startup a new business.  As a result, older entrepreneurs have become isolated and instead of working with others they are basically forced to startup and build a business all by themselves.

A Long And Winding Road To Overnight Success

There is some light at the end of the tunnel.  One of the best case studies (Profiles) that I have read recently about current senior entrepreneurs (seniorpreneurs) was written up by Kevin Chong a Vancouver based freelance Writer.  I want to present it for discussion purposes as follows:

PROFILE- Sam Koffski, Inventor, now in his mid-eighties.

For inventor Sam Koffski it took three decades and a handful of false starts for his entrepreneurial dream to come true.

It started in the 1970’s.  Koffski was the owner-operator of a construction business mainly doing stucco work on homes.  Working at sites with a small crew, Koffski found himself needing a work bench that could handle uneven ground and be used at various heights.

“All of a sudden a light came on,” Koffski says from his home in Duncan B.C.  in 1980 Koffski designed the original Workhorse, a pair of metal brackets that tighten onto pieces of lumber to reate a sawhorse that can be adjusted to various heights and widths.  He then manufactured a few prototypes with a partner, who brought one of them to the offices of Black and Decker.  The hardware giant immediately purchased Koffski’s design.

Within three years, Black and Decker sold about 130,000 units of the original workhorse in North America.  Unfortunately, Koffski’s invention didn’t make enough money to make up the costs of materials and production.  Liability insurance was another issue.  “There were ladder companies going broke because of the liabilities,” notes Koffski.  Because of those costs, Black and Decker discontinued the bracket device.

From that disappointment, Koffski, who retired from the stucco business fifteen years ago, saw room for improvement.  “I didn’t like the Black and Decker design,” he said.  “I put my effort into redesigning the product the way I knew it should have been.”  Koffski returned from the drawing board with Workhorse II.

In 1993, the Workhorse II received a “very large order” from Home Hardware in Canada, but again what could go wrong did.  Faulty manufacturing led to a defective product.  The company that Koffski partnered with went bankrupt.  In the process, he lost his patent.

It seemed as though Koffski’s dream had taken it’s last, agonizing breath.  “I hadn’t given up, but I certainly hadn’t done anything to promote it,” he said.  That’s when he received inspiration from his son, Sid.  “My son, who grew up with the Workhorse, was renovating his house.  And he used it in so many different ways.  he came to me and said, “Look you’ve got to do something with this.”  Sid’s idea was to take his father’s invention to the Dragon’s Den.  “I thought it was a dumb idea.  But he persisted.  And that’s how we got on.”

Appearing on the CBC show in the spring of 2012, Sam Koffski successfully sold the rights to the Workhorse II to Arlene Dickinson (owner of YouInc.com) for $75,000 and a 5% royalty.  “Arlene Dickinson is wounderful,” said Koffski.

Arlene helped the inventor file a new patent for his design.  Then, with the help of his children, Koffski created a DVD demonstrating his brackets.  Arlene took the DVD to the president of Home Depot, who promptly placed an order.  Koffski’s advice to inventors is simple but hard-earned.  “Don’t give up.”

With the renamed 3D Multihorse appearing on Home Depot shelves this month, Koffski can now enjoy an active social life with his wife Lorraine and tight knit family that includes four children, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.  For this late bloomer, the workhorse’s winding road to success is more about realizing a dream than money.  Although, the octo genarian admits, “the money will make the dream a little better.”

Discussion Time

I think that in the past and it’s probably still happening the terrain for a potential or existing 50+ entrepreneur is still a long and winding rocking road.  I believe that older entrepreneurs like Sam Koffski is probably still the normal situation taking many years to develop a new product and/or service eg. (Original workhorse).  In this day and age of collaboration the 50+ entrepreneur should have the opportunity to network with a suitable business support group to develop and market a new product and/or service quicker.  In my research, I have found examples of older entrepreneurs working by themselves on a new product only to die before their product is introduced to the marketplace, if at all.  And, often the survivors of an inventor who passes on don’t have a clue about the new product and as a result the product also dies with the inventor.

Question- Knowing that older entrepreneurs have abundant wisdom to invent, produce and market a new product or service, why do you think or don’t think that there is still blantant discrimination against senior enterprises; even though the older entrepreneur has wisdom, maturity, confidence, knowledge, skills & resources?

Please leave any comments you may have below which will be much appreciated.