They say that 60 is the new 40, and if that’s the case, it makes you wonder if 80 is the new retirement. Thanks to medical and technological advances, people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s or beyond have more and better opportunities than ever before to make a successful go of their own business. If the big six-zero is bearing down on you, or you’re just doubting whether or not you can make it as an entrepreneur, take heart in the stories of these 10 business-savvy seniors, and remember, you’re only as old as you feel.
As far back as 1994, journalists were writing stories about this enterprising wonder of a senior. At that time, she was 71 and 5 years into her journey with the company she started, L.G. Accessories, she produced her patented Strap-Mate, her answer to those troublesome slipping bra straps. Over the years, the device has found its way into Nordstrom’s and other stores and its creator has found her way into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame. Today, Lisa is still the face of the business, although her son Steve is now president/email handler.
2. Charlotte Frank and Christine Millen:
Together, these 2 gals have a combined 133 years of life to contribute something of value. As the pair began to look for the next project that would utilize their valuable experiences garnered in their respective careers in government and consulting, they started meeting with other women in similar circumstances for support. Realizing the value of such connections, they launched The Transition Network for middle-aged women in New York City to build a community for women making the transition to life after 50. After starting in New York City, they opened chapters that serve thousands of women in Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, D.C. and elsewhere.
3. Anita Crook:
Much like Lisa Gable, Anita Crook found business inspiration in a pesky problem faced by every woman that’s ever been in line in front of you at the grocery store: the inability to find what she’s looking for in her massive purse. Thus, in 2005, the Pouchee, a purse organizer with slots for phones, credit cards, makeup and more, with $10,000 of Crook’s savings as seed money and her home as headquarters, was born. Though Crook says she had a powerful fear of rejection and “getting it wrong,” in turned out that the 58-year-old had nothing to worry about as virtually every store she pitched that first year became a client. Now 65, Crook is overseeing a multi-million dollar company with a product sold in more than 2,000 stores around the world.
4. Mac Lewis:
After leaving a 14-year career at IBM, Lewis had already tried his hand at being a venture capitalist, an easy jumping-off point for retirement for a man his age. But in 2006, at age 60, Lewis decided he, “Liked being in business better than being on boards.” So he brought his technology know-how to bear in co-founding and becoming CEO of FieldSolutions, a business that sends out qualified technology consultants to supplement companies’ tech operations in the field. No doubt Lewis’ experience in the market helped the company meet its $1 million capital target and grow its clientele exponentially over the years.
5. Patrick Althizer:
What senior citizen wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend all of his or her time marveling at the beauty of Yosemite Park? Photo Safari Yosemite is where Patrick Althizer marries his love of nature and photography with his dislike of standing still. He started the photography touring company at age 64 (after realizing what he wanted to do “when he grew up”) and by all accounts runs it like everyone’s favorite grandfather — he’s got years of wisdom and is great with kids.
6. Wally Blume:
Readers with a sweet tooth might recognize the name Denali Flavors and its Moose Tracks fudge ice cream. The flavor’s inventor was one Wally Blume. And although it might seem like vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter cups would have been created by someone sooner or later, Blume deserves full credit for betting everything on his own entrepreneurial skills late in his 50s. Mortgaging all his assets, Blume bought out his partners and launched Denali Flavors when he was 61. Now in his 70s, Denali is rolling in it, with annual sales reaching $100 million.
7. Ray Corkran:
Elderly care has become an enticing industry for senior entrepreneurs. It’s a logical fit considering they are now adult children whose parents have aged to the point that they may need to find assisted living. One such businessman is Ray Corkran, whose own mother passed away under her husband’s care because, according to Ray, “He just wasn’t a caregiver.” The 60-year-old Corkran entered the field by buying the Home Instead Senior Care franchise, citing uncertainty over Medicare and Medicaid and baby boomers hitting 65 as reasons to be optimistic about the financials. And, worst case scenario, now he’s got a place to hang his hat in 20 years, if it comes to that.
8. Dorothy Atkins:
Before she retired in 2002, Dorothy Atkins spent her train commutes to San Francisco making rough sketches for greeting cards and postcards that included “pearls of wisdom” she had picked up over the years. These would become the basis for her greeting card company, From Where I Sit. Now in her 70s, Atkins has enjoyed healthy success, landing a feature on SBTV and being named “Entrepreneur of the Month” by Victoria Magazine. As for what’s next for her, she’s looking to parlay her painting skills into a children’s book.
9. Mary Tennyson:
At 63, Mary Tennyson was probably still a youngster in the eyes of her 92-year-old mother, Mary Fay. Tennyson stumbled (no pun intended) onto the idea of a purse that attaches to a walker after Fay fell and broke her hip and had trouble carrying a bag while using the walker. The result was the StashAll and the company of the same name, which Tennyson was encouraged to create through support from a women’s entrepreneurship network and advice from the Small Business Administration.
10. Harland Sanders:
Drive past any Kentucky Fried Chicken and you’ll see the image of a legendary entrepreneurial senior looking back at you. The Colonel had started his restaurant and created his secret recipe by 1940, but in the ’50s, the newly created interstate diverted traffic away from his location and Sanders went broke at age 65. Instead of torching his restaurant for the insurance money, Sanders famously used a single Social Security check to finance his hundreds of trips to pitch his chicken recipe to restaurateurs. Of course we all know how the story ends. Sanders franchised over 600 locations and sold out for $2 million (hey, it was a lot in 1964).
Reprinted by permission.
Image credit: CC by Lars Juhl Jensen