60 is the new 30: A new generation of entrepreneurs

The term ‘entrepreneur’ often conjures up an image of a young and dynamic individual (such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg), however, while it is vital that African countries continue to promote entrepreneurship among the youth, there is also a rising need for a focus on promoting entrepreneurship among older generations, such as retirees.

This is according Christo Botes, executive director of Business Partners Limited, a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa, who says that older individuals often have the advantage of identifying different business opportunities, based on past experience and acquired knowledge. “They can reinvent and refine existing business opportunities as they know the marketplace and have seen many business cycles through thick and thin.”

Botes adds that given today’s improved medical science and technology, as well as an increasing emphasis on healthier lifestyles, many individuals who are entering their retirement years are still in their prime and remain both physically and mentally fit and capable of participating in business many years into their retirement. “Not only are recent retirees able to remain active, but they are also equipped with a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be extremely beneficially for a new business venture.”

He says that with any business venture, its success rides on the quality of the idea it’s founded on, and being able to identify this is a skill which often comes with experience. He adds that an idea well implemented into a formal business structure is a further key to success. “While entrepreneurial ability doesn’t necessarily develop with age, ideas around possible business ventures may arise from need, and the understanding of this need comes from past experience, and experience comes with age.

“For instance, a manager from a logistics company may recognise the need for an environmentally-friendly delivery system, or a technician in the publishing industry may see the opportunity for improved printing software. These opportunities may not be obvious to someone who has not been exposed to the particular industry.”

Botes says that while there is no specific retirement age in South Africa (the norm is generally between 55 and 65), these retirees should consider entrepreneurial ventures as an avenue to pursue in retirement, whether it be consulting, mentoring or starting a home-based business focused on a personal passion or pastime.

“If retirees can harness their skill and experience productively, it can not only be a priceless asset to any business, but it can also occupy a retiree’s time and assist with supplementing their retirement savings,” says Botes.

He explains that there are a numerous benefits for those individuals beginning their entrepreneurial journey in their late 50s to late 60s. “Older entrepreneurs are likely to have the advantage of having the experience of managing teams successfully, stronger business networks and be better skilled to execute business plans, all of which aid in running a successful business.

“A senior entrepreneur may also be more financially secure than younger entrepreneurs and have an alternative source of income, such as non-retirement savings that has been accumulated during their working life. This financial security can make the financial risks of starting a business less salient.”

He adds that older entrepreneurs establishing businesses in turn also create jobs for the economy, and they become mentors for younger employees or family members. “These older entrepreneurs essentially become role models for the next generation. Not only will this encourage and drive entrepreneurship in South Africa, but also assist in providing young, budding entrepreneurs with a solid foundation of guidance and advice that they can build on for their potential businesses endeavours.”

Botes advises that it is important to remember that age is not a factor in startup business success, but that success is determined by a winning idea coupled with commitment, passion and energy, as well as the correct planning. “While older entrepreneurs may have experience behind them, they still need to be mentally and financially prepared for the journey, similar to a younger entrepreneur, and this is ensured by conducting thorough research and planning to ensure that the idea is in fact viable and profitable,” concludes Botes.