By Lee Howard The Day, New London, Conn.
About three dozen senior entrepreneurs who gathered Thursday at Webster Bank were told "there's a second career beyond 50."
Julio Casiano, deputy director of the Small Business Administration in Hartford, said during an Encore Entrepreneur boot camp that the SBA and AARP have been co-sponsoring sessions across the state over the past year or so to encourage older workers to launch new careers by starting their own businesses.
A lot of people, he said, are looking to get a business off the ground but don't know how. Thursday's session was intended to give entrepreneurs of all ages some of the resources they need to make the leap into business ownership.
"Retirement isn't what it used to be," said Nora L. Duncan, state director for AARP. "We want to help cultivate the skills and talents you already have."
Duncan said a surprisingly large number of people in their 50s, estimated at 16 percent, either own their own businesses or are self-employed in such areas as consultant work. A similarly large percentage of people in midlife are interested in starting their own businesses, she added.
Many decide that midlife is when they can blend profit and purpose in a so-called encore career that might lead to the creation of a nonprofit or a profit-making beneficial corporation in which giving back to society has an important place, Duncan added.
Among the agencies that senior entrepreneurs can tap for free help is SCORE, a group of mostly retired executives who can help guide business owners over the hurdles involved in starting a new enterprise. Michael Del Vecchio, a certified mentor for the Old Saybrook-based SCORE chapter, said his agency can be a sounding board as prospective entrepreneurs work through their business and strategic planning.
"Most of us have extensive backgrounds in managing businesses," Del Vecchio said.
The state's Small Business Development Center, based locally at the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut in Waterford, is another place for entrepreneurs to turn. Matthew Nemeth, business adviser for the SBDC, said his agency can help with a wide variety of issues, from marketing information to financial resources.
Nemeth said entrepreneurship is a process, not something a person is born with. The key, he said, is to focus on solving a problem in the marketplace and finding the right location to take advantage of providing a solution.
The SBDC's role is to provide one-on-one counseling, he said, and find answers quickly to take a little pressure off entrepreneurs who need to be a jack of all trades.
"As a small business owner, how many hats do you wear -- all of them, right?" Nemeth said.
Joanne LoPresti Miller, a vice president at Webster Bank, said one of the key aspects of entrepreneurship is developing strong ties to lenders. As the No. 1 SBA lender in the state, she said, "We know how to make the system work."
She said the key is to tell a good story about your company and be prepared to make significant personal investments in the business while making sure to set aside working capital for unexpected expenses.
"We're not going to take all the risk," Miller said. "You need to have skin in the game."
Milena Erwin, program director of the SBA Women's Business Center in Hartford, said about a third of her clients are between the ages of 55 and 64. She said women face a variety of issues in entrepreneurial roles, with some being empty nesters, others having lost jobs and a third category in which they have inherited a family business they need to keep running.
Fernando Rosa, deputy executive director of the micro lender HEDCO in Hartford, said business plans are one of the keys to securing funding.
"Do what you're good at and be better than anyone else -- that's your business plan," he said. "Your banking institution is your key to success."