The Pros and Cons of Starting a Business as an Older Entrepreneur

there are challenges to starting a business later in life, including ageism and the higher cost of failure, since there is a lot less time to make up for what you lose.
there are challenges to starting a business later in life, including ageism and the higher cost of failure, since there is a lot less time to make up for what you lose.


You have the network and experience to be successful. But ageism is real. And then there’s the question of stamina.

For some seniors, retirement is a prime time to start a business.

While people tend to think of entrepreneurs in their 20s, 30s and 40s, they are often older—sometimes well into their 60s and 70s. In fact, the 55-to-64 group accounted for 22.8% of entrepreneurs in 2021, according to a report published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Certainly, there are challenges to starting a business later in life, including ageism and the higher cost of failure, since there is a lot less time to make up for what you lose. But there are also experiential and networking advantages that younger business owners may not have.

“There’s also this notion of, if not now, when?" says Meredith Oppenheim, founder of Vitality Society, an online community for older adults.

Here’s what entrepreneurs, business consultants and educators have to say about the pros and cons of starting a business later in life:

The pros

Giving retirement more purpose

Many retirees are glad to get away from the daily grind, eager to focus on the leisure activities they neglected when they were working. But once they do it for a few months or perhaps years, they often find themselves bored. They feel restless or unfulfilled now that they have so much time on their hands.

Starting a business may help seniors find purpose, says Wendy Mayhew, founder of Wise-Seniors in Business, an Ottawa-based consulting firm that focuses on older entrepreneurs. “You can only play so much golf."

Seniors also have the freedom to explore options they always thought about but didn’t have time to pursue when they were younger. Maybe it is taking a hobby to a new level. Maybe it is pursuing a passion that intrigued them, but would have taken too much time away from home. This is especially true once there are no young children at home, and if there are no aging parents to care for.

“Especially when you start a business over age 60, I think passion is a really important element," says Michael Clinton, age 70, who last year started Roar Forward, which provides longevity-related business intelligence, events and webinars to C-suite executives.

Most people when they are over 60 have accomplished a lot, he says. “They don’t have anything to prove. Now it’s really the thing that’s driving them to enjoy their life in a different way and enjoy the things they’re working on day to day."

Decades of experience

Seniors bring one huge advantage to the table that may make it easier to navigate the world of entrepreneurship: a lifetime of experience building up skills and contacts.

Susan Black, founder and chief executive of Wowzitude, a virtual travel company focused on older adults, started the business in November 2020, while in her early 60s, after working in the travel industry for four decades.

Those four decades gave her practical skills and confidence to do things she might not have done when she was younger. She knew how to work the floor at senior-living conferences for networking purposes, for instance. Her experience also gave her the marketing know-how she needed to advance the business and apply to multiple accelerator programs.

Having experience can help senior founders avoid rookie mistakes.  “Expertise and experience surpass everything," she says.

What’s more, she says, her experience gave her confidence. She reached out to various people on LinkedIn, commented on online articles, cold-called potential customers and attended trade shows, even if she knew nothing about the subject matter.

Having a network of potential contacts also helped. A client from two decades ago, for instance, read about her company on LinkedIn and became a monthly sponsor and tour operator.

A flexible schedule

Many seniors might not be counting on their business to provide all their income, so they don’t necessarily have to put in 40, 80 or 100 hours a week. That could make a business more compatible with a lifestyle if they’re planning to travel extensively or spend long periods with grandchildren.

A flexible schedule also means seniors can increase their working hours at their own pace. Clinton of Roar Forward initially thought he’d be putting in about 20 hours a week, but because he likes the work, he doesn’t mind the 35 hours he really spends. “You don’t really count the hours, you just kind of do it."

The cons


Although older entrepreneurs might have contacts and experience, all that experience cuts two ways. For starters, potential funders, clients or employees may question their commitment, says Bruce H. Lipnick, an entrepreneur in his 70s who in 2020 launched Stage Access, a New York company that produces, distributes and licenses classical arts programming.

It can be harder as an older entrepreneur to get investors to buy in, he says. “People say you’re too old; go play golf and go play tennis," he says.

While Black—who hasn’t sought outside investors—hasn’t faced ageism in this way, people she meets in social settings or at conferences often express surprise when she tells them what she’s doing and her growth plan.

“It bothers me because I think there is an outdated stereotype of what people in their 60s are supposed to be doing now in this chapter of their life. It’s not a law for us to move into a retirement community," she says.

“If I’ve been a 40-year fulfilled entrepreneur and in corporate America, why would that change all of a sudden when I’m in my 60s?" she says. “And why would I think that would change when I get to my 70s, as long as I’m in good health?"

Funders also may be more dubious that a company started by an older person can be cutting-edge, especially if it is tech-oriented, Mayhew says. A funder might also doubt the company’s ability to be long-lasting, or they may have doubts about how long the founder will live, Mayhew says.

Joining with someone younger can help in this respect because it demonstrates the owner is planning for the future, says Marci Alboher, vice president at CoGenerate, a social-impact organization in San Francisco.

The potential cost of failure

The financial stakes can also be much higher for older entrepreneurs if they are putting a lot of their savings into the venture. If someone fails as an entrepreneur at age 26, their personal savings generally aren’t that deep, so they don’t have as much to lose. And they can more easily get a job and spend lots of time making up losses, says Christina Wallace, senior lecturer in the entrepreneurial management unit at Harvard Business School.

That means older entrepreneurs need to be even more prepared—and perhaps risk-averse—than younger entrepreneurs, since they won’t have as much time to recover from a financial misstep. They shouldn’t use their home as collateral, for example, or deplete their 401(k).

“When you’re older, the risk could be much higher—you don’t have 30, 40 or 50 years ahead of you to rebuild the assets you might be putting at risk," Wallace says.

Older entrepreneurs also have to avoid pouring money into a venture that is obviously heading south, Wallace says. The temptation exists, “even if the money is in your bank account and you, your wife and your financial adviser agree you probably shouldn’t use it."


Building companies takes time and effort, and it can take a huge toll on health, Oppenheim says. Older people may not be able to keep up as easily with the demands as younger entrepreneurs can.

“You need the stamina to be able to work long, hard hours," she says, “That could create burnout."

Cheryl Winokur Munk is a writer in West Orange, N.J. She can be reached at

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