Although entrepreneurs are often thought of as young people eager to take on the world, there is a large sector of society over the age of 50 who, either out of necessity or for pleasure, want to conjugate the verb enterprise and do it well.Fundación MAPFRE has published a practical guide showing all of them how to do it.
TEXT: ISABEL PRESTEL IMAGES: ISTOCK
Last March, the United Nations (UN) publisheda comprehensive report on ageism, i.e. age discrimination, describing it as “a stealthy but devastating disgrace to society.” According to this study, among older people in particular, “ageism is associated with poorer physical and mental health, greater social isolation and loneliness, greater financial insecurity, lower quality of life, and higher rates of premature death.”
Indeed, on an economic level, it is an expensive “pandemic” that affects all first-world countries to a greater or lesser degree. A 2020 study showed that, in the U.S., ageism in the form of negative stereotypes and an unfavorable image entails an annual cost overrun of $63 billion in healthcare costs. And it does not seem to be getting any better. In April 2020, the U.S. NGO AARP, whose mission is to attend to the needs and interests of the over-50s, reported that the unemployment rate among people over the age of 54 had soared to 13.6%, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In Spain we are on the same track. According to the EPA (Encuesta de Población Activa), in the fourth quarter of 2020, 936,200 citizens over 50 years old were unemployed in Spain, in other words, 25% of the total number of unemployed people are over that age, which is not at all flattering. It is even worse if we consider that, in Spain, this figure has doubled over the last 10 years and currently constitutes one of the main aspects of structural unemployment. Put simply, it is a trend that does not seem likely to change in the near future.
The same applies to early retirement. Trade union sources say that the number of early retirees in Spain is around 600,000, with a tendency to increase in recent months in response to the pandemic, so that the figure could exceed 800,000 this year. If we add these figures together, we can see that, in Spain, more than one and a half million people over 50 spend more time at home than they would probably like and, above all, more than they need. This is the reason why these people often decide to start their own business, often out of necessity, and at other times because of personal interest and true desire. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship is a word that the collective imagination usually associates with young people.
Nevertheless, data from the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, prepared in conjunction with the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, and published in May 2020, contradicts the typical idea of what an entrepreneur is. They are young people eager for success and very technologically literate. But they are also older people eager to use their experience in their own business. In fact, entrepreneurial activity among the 45-64 age group rose from 4.6% in 2010 to 9.9% in 2019. Fundación MAPFRE is aware of this and for this reason, through its Ageingnomics Research Center, has published a Guide to Senior Entrepreneurshipin collaboration with the International University of La Rioja, UNIR. This is an eminently practical publication that reflects the Foundation’s strategy to offer a better quality of life to people aged 50 and over.
Of course, this quality of life includes economic activity, which is becoming more and more relevant both within our borders and beyond. So much so that a new term has been coined for it in English: the Silver Economy. This Silver Economy may play a fundamental role in the future of our society, according to the authors of the guide, Clara Lapiedra and Pablo Cardona. To give us an idea, we can point to a figure provided in the UN report on ageism: If 5% of Australia’s over-54s were employed, this would generate $48 billion a year.
The reality is that the world of entrepreneurship does not just have to be the territory of young people. Our so-called seniors have a lot to contribute. For Clara Lapiedra, a strategy consultant and innovation expert, is clear that “experience is something that can only be gained over the years. I often come across entrepreneurs who ignore issues such as subtlety when delivering certain messages or do not understand the context of the audience and other situations. And this is not taught in any business school.” It’s something you learn through time and work. With life. Yet that is not the only factor that works in favor of older people. It is true that they often face shortcomings that do not worry young people, such as mastery of technology. But, as the business consultant says, “This shortcoming is undoubtedly compensated for by other challenges where seniors have an advantage, such as their network of contacts. In other words, it is not a limiting factor when it comes to entrepreneurship.”
Entrepreneurial activity among people aged 45 to 64 rose from 4.6% in 2010 to 9.9% in 2019.
Experience also helps one to know how to assess whether it is the right time to start an adventure like an entrepreneurial venture, something the authors call the entrepreneur’s life cycle. In this sense, it is important to bear in mind that “the right moment is created, it does not come knocking on your door one day. If you have a project in mind and you have the energy to develop it, then it is the right time”, says Lapiedra. It is true that sometimes that moment arises out of obligation, as in the case of the long-term unemployed. But other times it is “because of what the Americans call giving back; that is, they feel the need to give back to society some of the knowledge they have harvested.” Often the two situations coincide.
In all cases, this entrepreneurship expert offers the same key advice: “To all of them I would say that a very common mistake is to wait until everything is perfect. That approach is very damaging to entrepreneurship, since every day counts. We have to pass through a series of phases that we should start traversing as soon as we can. We have to learn from our mistakes, so the sooner we make mistakes, the sooner we will find the best possible solution.”
12 topics, 12 chapters, 12 real cases
From the outset, the idea behind the guide was that it should be a practical and easy-to-handle publication. That is why Clara Lapiedra, co-author of the guide, decided to structure it according to “the logical order I use as a consultant. This point is important to emphasize because it is one of the most frequent questions that my clients usually ask me: “I think I have a clear idea, but where do I start?” In addition, it has been written using a very applied theory and teaching-oriented style.” To achieve this, the authors used a very interesting resource: the testimony of a series of senior entrepreneurs aged between 52 and 68. In fact, there are 12, as many as there are chapters in the guide. This idea came from Clara’s experience as a consultant: “It helps me a great deal to visualize what others have done before, and we tried to use best practices that were enlightening for other people.” In choosing them, she drew on case studies she knew from her work. “I’m fortunate to have been able to help hundreds of individuals, either as mentées or clients, so it wasn’t hard for me to pick out those who could serve as illustrative examples for each of the chapters.”
With an eminently practical approach, the Senior Entrepreneurship Guide outlines the roadmap for entrepreneurs over 55 years of age.