Let's Steal This Idea: A Business Incubator for People 60+
Israel's Dare to Dream spawned dozens of late-life entrepreneurs
Growing numbers of people in the second half of life are embracing entrepreneurship. Yet America’s start-up ecosystem of business incubators, accelerators and co-sharing workspaces largely ignores people over 60 who are eager to launch companies, either full-time or part-time in retirement. That’s why it’s worth looking at an experiment in Israel aimed specifically at this demo. And it’s why cities and states in America might want to create their own versions.
I’m talking about a later-in-life business incubator that was called Dare to Dream (love that name). It was the brainchild of two professors at Tel-Hai College in Upper Galilee, Israel: Eli Gimmon, a professor of economics and management, and Shira Hantman, a professor in social work and gerontology.
They believe society should encourage people to find purpose and a paycheck in entrepreneurship to go along with longer, healthier lives. To test their thesis, in 2012, Gimmon and Hantman hatched a pilot incubator for retirees who wanted to work but had no entrepreneurial experience.
How Israel's Dare to Dream Business Incubator Worked
Upper Galilee, in northern Israel, was a good place for the experiment; about a quarter of its population is 60 and older. The professors targeted retirees in 27 rural settlements (kibbutzim). As it turned out, more women than men signed up for the program, housed at a senior center at the college. The founders enlisted a number of local stakeholders to offer support, including the public office for entrepreneurship development and Social Welfare and Health Services.
The older students in the initial classes ranged from age 60 to 75. Tel-Hai students from the departments of economics and social work matched up with them as mentors. A 12-meeting training program included lectures, group discussions and hands-on practice exercises. The program was far more than kibitzing.
“For the students, it was part of their academic or community assignment; for the older people it provided professional support, such as how to write a business plan,” wrote Gimmon and Hantman. “Both parties enjoyed an intergenerational rewarding experience.”
What the Older Entrepreneurs Hatched
The businesses the older students wanted to open were generally not technological. Instead, 70% worked on microenterprise or solopreneur businesses to do things like make and sell homemade liqueurs, jams, pottery, and glass mosaic. Others hoped to make and edit films, provide local tours, preserve heritage sites, do interior decorating and offer arts and crafts therapy for older people. One planned a furniture renovation company. A particularly unusual venture: a bottle-opener collector who aimed to turn part of his home into a museum.
“These aren’t major businesses,” says Gimmon. “Really, self-employed. But it had to be a new business in which they did make some money. They fulfilled a dream.”
Daring to dream with the older entrepreneurs’ desire for income came through clearly in a 2018 scholarly article by Gimmon and Hantman about the project, “Entrepreneurship in the third age: retirees’ motivation and intentions.”
For example, they cited Nili, 71, who had gone through Dare to Dream a few years earlier. Her venture produced high-quality jam products sold in farmer markets. “I think that the secret of ones’ life is to have a reason to get up in the morning,” said Nili. “I am lucky because my job is also my love.” file:
Most participants said the program motivated them to be entrepreneurs and helped them develop their business skills and learn how to present a business plan.
Sadly, Dare to Dream ran out of money after four years, in 2016. But by that time, approximately 200 Upper Galilee retirees went through the incubator and about a third started a microenterprise.
Gimmon is still excited by the promise of Dare to Dream. “Entrepreneurship isn’t a solution for those who aren’t in good health,” he says. “But it may be a solution for healthy people who want to start a business.” At any age.
3 Takeaways From Dare to Dream
I take away three insights from the Dare to Dream experience:
First, America’s entrepreneurial community should stop treating the late-life entrepreneur as an exception. The numbers are compelling and hardly hidden. People age 55 to 64 comprise a quarter of all new businesses formed in recent years. The rate of self-employment in America is highest among those 65 and older.
Second, innovation districts, incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces should take deliberate steps to welcome and recruit late-life entrepreneurs. I’m not alone in this belief.
“Entrepreneurship drives economic growth regardless of the age of those involved,” wrote Jessica Lee in a report for the Brookings Institution. “As such, districts should explore how to increase the participation of older adults in their entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Third, the intergenerational format was a big reason Dare to Dream launched so many businesses Gimmon made the combination of young and older intentional and essential.
The Intriguing Idea in Florida
That’s why I’m now intrigued by a proposed incubator from the nonprofit South Florida Institute on Aging (SoFIA) in Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale.
SoFIA has applied for a grant to seed an incubator to launch businesses serving the oldest Americans, mostly by creating high-tech products for them. (SoFIA should learn if its grant is accepted later in the spring.)
The idea came from SoFIA’s board and volunteers, mostly local, retired C-suite executives and entrepreneurs. These retirees have a strong desire to give back. But they were frustrated that their volunteer work didn’t really tap into their accumulated business expertise.
SoFIA President and CEO Peter Kaldes told me he learned through conversations that the retirees were “particularly interested in the entrepreneurial space.”
The proposed incubator will be intergenerational, just like Dare to Dream. But here, the entrepreneur wannabes will be all ages and coached by retired executives. Entrepreneurs of all ages with a product or service for the aging market will be welcome, including those 50-plus with a startup idea.
Kaldes is especially enthusiastic and optimistic about that group of venture hopefuls. “A way to differentiate this is with older people who want to start a new business,” says Kaldes. “They’re experienced.”
After all, they’ll dare to dream.