Are You A Baby Boomer Thinking Of Starting A Business?

By Diane Mastrull

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Richard J. "Rick" Anthony Sr. has launched a unique course called "Roadrunner50Plus" -- a gut-check program designed to keep the wrong people from taking the entrepreneurial plunge.

The youngest baby boomers are now in their 50s; the oldest, their 70s.

Which means we've likely confronted most of life's toughest challenges: buying a house, raising kids, mourning significant loss, surviving wretched bosses.

Aside from perhaps a problem knee or moments of temporary memory mush, what other peril could be ahead?

Entrepreneurship, says Richard J. "Rick" Anthony Sr.

"I know of too many instances where older adults had an idea, a dream, a passion, committed their own personal resources, their pension plans, their IRAs, their personal savings, and had made mistakes that could have been avoided if they had somebody at the outset advising them," Anthony said.

He has launched Roadrunner50Plus -- a gut-check program designed to keep the wrong people from taking the entrepreneurial plunge.

Nothing like it exists in the region, where those in the entrepreneurial community say it is needed.

"Most of these guys come from corporate life and they really don't understand what it takes to do a start-up," said Marc Kramer, executive director of Philadelphia's Angel Venture Fair, the oldest and largest gathering of angel investors and entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic region, and an executive in residence at St. Joseph University's Haub School of Business.

Anthony heard similar feedback on a recent morning at Overbrook Country Club in Villanova at an event for more seasoned entrepreneurs -- a networking breakfast of The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN), a series of five meetings a year he has been holding for 17 years. Anthony founded TEN before the region even had a thriving start-up scene, back when incubators were more commonly known as protective vessels for premature babies than as hatcheries for new businesses.

Through TEN, Anthony provides a venue for those with business ideas to meet prospective investors -- two hats he has worn for more than 25 years. By contrast, Roadrunner50Plus -- currently accepting applicants to the inaugural class of 15 -- is designed to help a person assess whether he or she should even be considering entrepreneurship. "Everybody is talking about entrepreneurship, everybody," said Anthony, who contends that the term is widely misunderstood.

"It's more often confused with innovation, and they are quite different," he said. "You can be an innovator without being an entrepreneur. You can be an entrepreneur without being an innovator."

Both are vastly different from jobs familiar to boomers, he and others said.

"Many of them are coming out of Corporate America. This ain't Corporate America," said Lonnie Sciambi, managing director and CEO of Small Business Force LLC, a consultant to small-business owners and entrepreneurs based in Port Monmouth, N.J. "When you need supplies, you don't go to the supply cabinet, you go to Staples. When you have to travel, you don't ask your [administrative assistant] to go make the travel arrangements. You get on Trivago and you find a cheap hotel."

Roadrunner50Plus is a seven-week program to be held in donated meeting space at the Blank Rome LLP law firm in Center City -- and possibly in the suburbs if demand warrants, Anthony said. The anticipated $2,500 cost includes a self-administered competency assessment, designed by Ira S. Wolfe, a specialist in employee assessments. Questions will measure tenacity, resilience, business acumen, insight, collaboration, and leadership, among other skills, Anthony said.

"There are a number of people who have been very successful in the corporate world who haven't necessarily had, or had to use, those kinds of skills," he said.

Lectures from a variety of business experts will address such questions as: "Do you really need a patent? Do you really need to spend $15,000 to $20,000 on a digital marketing campaign and probably pay an agency to learn your business before they start producing anything?"

The idea is to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs who are well-suited for the challenge, discourage those who are not, and, in the process, reduce the chances of tragic experiences, Anthony said. Wincing, the management consultant spoke of baby boomers who kept pouring money into an idea that wasn't showing promise, only to lose retirement nest eggs in the process at a time in life when recouping those funds was next to impossible.

"I have a small group of people who would definitely be interested," Lynne Williams, who attended the Feb. 15 TEN meeting, said after Anthony revealed his Roadrunner50Plus plans there.

Williams is executive director of the Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group, a nonprofit that provides workforce development, including for career transition. "A great majority" of clients are boomers, typically downsized out of a job, Williams said. They are asking, " 'Do I want to be potentially downsized again or should I take charge of my own career and consider entrepreneurship?' It's a process of exploration and assessments to find out if they're really geared up and ready for this transition."

In other words, whether they are roadrunners.

"The roadrunner has always symbolized for me the kind of agility, survival instincts, and savvy that entrepreneurs need," Anthony said.

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