In April, Dave Summers lost his job as a digital media production director for the American Management Association, a victim of layoffs caused by the pandemic.
60-year-old Summers quickly started his own business as a digital media producer, coach, and animator creating podcasts, webcasts, and video blogs.
And in September, he and his kindergarten teacher moved from Danbury, Connecticut to Maryville, Tennessee, what they discovered while visiting their son in Nashville. “My new work is all virtual so I can live anywhere,” he said. “Not only is it a cheaper place to live, we love hiking and the great outdoors, and our new town is at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.”
Crowds of small businesses have been shut down by the economic impact of the coronavirus, but starting a new business was the best option for Mr. Summers.
“I’m not sitting on a massive nest egg so I have to work to stay afloat,” he said. “It’s also about being healthy and happy. I can’t just retire because I’m creative and have to be busy doing things and helping people tell their stories. “
While the coronavirus pandemic is causing many older workers who have lost their jobs or who have been offered early severance packages to choose to leave the workforce, others like Mr Summers are switching to entrepreneurship.
In fact, older Americans were quick to start new businesses. Research by the Kauffman Foundation, a non-partisan entrepreneurship support group, found that more than 25 percent of new entrepreneurs were between 55 and 64 years old in 2019, up from around 15 percent in 1996.
According to the Census Bureau, there has been an increase in start-ups across the age spectrum since May. The surge is likely “being driven by newly unemployed people who choose to start their own business, either by choice or as a matter of necessity,” according to the Economic Innovation Group, a non-partisan public policy organization.
“Older women in particular,” said Elizabeth Isele, founder and managing director of the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship, “are highly motivated to start their own business in order to promote their own economic independence, support their families and also create jobs.” others in their communities. “
Losing his position during the pandemic was a blow to Mr. Summers. He had been depressed for a day or two, he said, but had already done what he called “extracurricular projects” and had a personal website that he quickly turned into a professional.
The startup cost for his virtual company was less than $ 2,000. The biggest challenges are “finding time to keep my technical skills up to date and to properly evaluate my services”. The greatest reward? “It’s a freedom I couldn’t have imagined.”
For many retirees, or those nearing retirement age, like Mr. Summers, “starting a new business by repackaging decades of skills and experience into a new career,” said Nancy Ancowitz, a New Yorker City based career coach.
“It hits you, especially during the coronavirus crisis, that time no longer feels unlimited,” she said. “You are aware that your own clock is ticking. With no seemingly endless prospect of work ahead of you, you might be motivated to finally retool and learn a new profession, or just try something different. “
For some of Ms. Ancowitz’s clients in her later years at work, an employer buyout is “the seed capital to fuel the company they yearn for,” she said.
They see it as “a pleasure to get that kick-start instead of having to look for a job with all the loneliness and fear of rejection that comes with it, especially if they haven’t looked for a job in ages.”
Two years ago, Vanessa Tennyson, 62, retired from her job as a human resources officer at a major engineering firm in Minneapolis, where she had worked for 32 years.
To find her booth, Ms. Tennyson enrolled as a fellow in the University of Minnesota’s Advanced Careers Initiative. It was the boost she needed to start an executive coaching business.
However, before hanging up her clapboard, she went back to school for a certification in executive and organizational coaching from Columbia University’s Teachers College and a certificate of completion from Columbia Business School’s executive education platform for business excellence. She also ensured that her credentials met the standards required by the nonprofit International Coaching Federation.
“I didn’t want to retire,” she said. When I left my job, it wasn’t entirely on my own terms. The company changed management and I was on the move faster than planned. “But at 59 she wanted something new. “I longed for something more functional, more significant, more challenging.”
Money also played a role.
“I had saved quite a lot of money, but I had also spent quite a lot of money,” said Ms. Tennyson, realizing that she had to keep earning.
The start-up cost for Ms. Tennyson was around $ 50,000 in tuition and setting up a home office so she could train virtually.
“The positive outcome of the pandemic,” she said, “is that I can work with people anywhere.” But the coronavirus has also hit her business badly, and in June she took a job as a human resources manager at an addiction treatment center. “I continue to run my business on the side and coach customers. I assume that next year will recover. “
According to a report by Cal J. Halvorsen and Jacquelyn B. James of the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, the importance of entrepreneurship or self-employment as a form of work increases significantly with age.
The report states: “While around one in six employees in their fifties is self-employed, almost one in three in the late 1960s is self-employed, and more than every second employee over 80 is self-employed.
Joe Casey, an executive coach, advises senior clients to focus. “The sooner you are clear about your ‘why’, the easier some of your decisions will be.”
For Rati Thanawala, 68, it was her 2018 scholarship at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative helping professionals apply their skills to social issues. That led her to start a nonprofit this summer, the Leadership Academy for Women of Color in Engineering.
“As a Fellow, I have researched why the careers of so many women and minorities in technology are stalling,” said Ms. Thanawala, who spent 39 years in technology and the past 17 years as vice president of Bell Labs.
After retiring three years ago, Ms. Thanawala sold her car and apartment and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the Harvard program. “My husband had died and our two children had grown up,” she said. “I wanted to get rid of the old to make room for the new relationships and new people who can teach me.”
For Ms. Thanawala, the central theme for her next chapter was clear: She wanted to have an impact on the industry in which she was immersed. “I had a tremendous amount of technology knowledge and saw firsthand how few women in color were in leadership positions,” she said.
Her pilot program, which she designed as a fellow, was funded by a $ 20,000 grant from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates.
This summer, Ms. Thanawala, in collaboration with faculty members from the University of Massachusetts and Harvard Kennedy School, established a free six-week, 120-hour Virtual Summer Leadership Academy taught through Zoom to 54 female students. Most of the students were undergraduates or junior graduates with degrees in technology and engineering from schools in Massachusetts including the University of Massachusetts, Harvard, MIT, and Boston University.
Ms. Thanawala said she hopes to expand the program and make it available to all women of color who have a focus on technology nationwide.
Money was not a stumbling block in developing their business. “I didn’t need a start-up that would make me millions of dollars,” she said. “And I didn’t need any money to support myself. I could focus on changing the culture in tech and changing attitudes towards women with color. “
The beginning of social entrepreneurship was a one-woman show in many ways, she said. “I had to do everything myself. It wasn’t like Bell Labs when I had all of these people around to come up with ideas. It was more difficult than I predicted. “
Her mantra: “In this phase of life it is really important to concentrate and not spread too thinly. I picked something that was transformative, groundbreaking, and innovative. I don’t need it for my ego. I don’t need it for my credibility. I don’t need it for money.
“But it will be the best chapter of my life in terms of the impact I will have on this world. People will remember me for this. “