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An NYC community center is helping seniors build small businesses


Some senior citizens move to retirement communities where they play golf or shuffleboard. Other seniors looking to be tech-savvy or start a small business go to Senior Planet.

The MIT Technology Review recently went inside Senior Planet, a retirement community and coworking space founded by Tom Kamber in 2006. At their Manhattan location, seniors can learn everything from finding the “on” button on their computers to creating their own websites. Learning these skills has never been more important for older people, especially as senior entrepreneurs are becoming a bigger part of America’s economy.

One regular at Senior Planet, Michael Taylor, used to run an antiques store, but had no choice but to close up shop amid rising rent costs. Despite losing his small business, he had little desire to retire. Instead, he got his master’s degree at New York School of Interior Design. As he said in the MIT Technology Review’s article, he started going to Senior Planet to get help with website design for an already successful small business.

The research finds that older business owners are more successful — and that continuing to work actually helps mental health.

According to Babson College’s 2016 State of Small Business in America report, 51% of small businesses are run by people aged 50 or over, up from 46% in 2007. And those small business are staying open longer than ones founded by younger generations: 70% of senior-run small businesses are still running three years after opening, compared to only 28% of businesses run by younger entrepreneurs.

There are also more senior citizens than ever. Millennials may be the largest group in the labor force at the moment, but older Americans are catching up. According to the US Department of Labor, workers over 55 will be the largest group, at 24.8%, by 2024.

Taylor, now 71 years 0ld, had seen his father retire at age 84. Suddenly having no work aged his father quickly, he told MIT Technology Review. “And I’m like, ‘If that’s what retirement does for you, I don’t want it.’ So I plan on working until God calls me home or just until I can’t work any longer,” he’s quoted as saying within the article.

Some experts say that the best way to stay active and prevent the ill effects of aging is to never retire. According to a 2013 study by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK think tank, retirees were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression than seniors who put off retirement, which indicates that work is good for mental health in old age.

Entrepreneurship helps combat ageism, too.

While many older Americans are still in the workforce, ageism is keeping them from landing jobs. According to a study by job site iHire, 53% of baby boomers have felt age discrimination at work, including having trouble getting jobs they’re qualified for.

Taylor has experienced ageism firsthand. “I found getting a job is not that easy if you’re not the 20, 30, or mid-40s candidates,” he said in the article.

Senior Planet’s goal is make ageism a thing of the past by erasing stereotypes of elderly people who can’t use technology or learn new things. Senior Planet founder Tom Kamber told MIT Technology Review that aging does anything but slow you down. In fact, “your horizon is shorter — your dreams become more critical and urgent,” he says.

Kamber believes that age is not a barrier to entrepreneurship or success, but occasionally, technology is. “When you’re a senior, and you’ve got an idea, and you want to make it happen,” he said, “somebody’s got to help out a little bit.”


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