As Hong Kong’s life expectancy gets higher, its population becomes older. Meanwhile, the new generation of elderly people generally have higher academic qualifications and ample funds. Many of them regard retiring as an opportunity for a “second life” and entertain the idea of starting a business.
Entrepreneurship is never only for the young. Many people who have reached retirement age still hope to continue working, or even fulfill their aspirations. The two Global Entrepreneurship Monitor studies conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Entrepreneurship (CfE) in 2009 and 2016 found that the percentage of entrepreneurs aged 55 to 64 in 2016 was higher than in 2009.
Encore entrepreneurs pay back to society
Elder entrepreneurs are also known as “encore entrepreneurs” because they are starting a “second career”. The advantages of elder entrepreneurs are that they have a vaster wealth of life experience and a broader network of contacts. Alice Yuk, President of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Social Enterprises (SE Chamber), pointed out that “many seniors want to experience entrepreneurship before they retire, as they still have the energy and health, as well as abundant funds to enable them to take the first step.”
In Yuk’s view, more importantly, these older people still have ambitions or insights into social issues, and they hope to help resolve them, so they entertain thoughts of starting their own business. In a case that Yuk came across, a retiree set up a social enterprise to provide old folks with care services as he saw many of them need care and companionship. Kevin Au, Associate Director of CUHK Centre for Entrepreneurship, believes that “many elderly people start their own business not for making money since they have a strong financial position; some of them only want to achieve their youthful dream.”
Gain insight into market and act within means
Both Yuk and Au noted that when elderly people start their own business, they usually engage in industries related to their profession. Yuk said: “A senior who used to work in HR noticed the situation that there are job vacancies but no people to fill them while some retired elderly have nothing to do, so he set up an HR consulting firm to assist these people to find jobs and enrich their lives.”
As the path of entrepreneurship is filled with challenges, Au believes that the most important thing is to understand market trends before starting a business: “The market is not necessarily what one thinks it is, so before starting a business, one must consider whether their plan meets market needs.” Even if it is not for profit, breaking even is still the key to sustainable development. Yuk reminded elder entrepreneurs that they cannot expect to be profitable early in the business. “They must not spend all their savings on starting a business! If they realize that their business will not improve afterward, that will be the time to consider terminating it. They should not linger on.” She advised entrepreneurs to set aside a living allowance for at least six months, as it is better to be prepared than sorry.
Besides finance, Yuk also mentioned several factors for elder entrepreneurs to consider: “First of all, they must examine their health condition and assess their ability. After all, taking care of a business is completely different from being employed; they must handle operations, recruitment and bookkeeping single-handedly.” She also reminded them that if they intend to recruit partners, they must first communicate clearly to avoid having any disputes in the future.
Support from society
Innovation and technology (I&T) is an area many entrepreneurs are targeting. Au suggested that elderly people can team up with the younger generation. They can combine their abundant experience and funds with young people’s innovative thinking and technological knowledge.
With the growing prevalence of entrepreneurship, Au believes that silver entrepreneurs will increase significantly: “There are more and more schemes to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams, e.g. the Government’s Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund. Many non-governmental organizations have also started to promote the idea of “active ageing” and encourage retirees to give back to society, which will also enhance the elderly’s interest and motivation in starting a business.” Yuk added that the SE Chamber provides interested entrepreneurs with a series of courses and workshops to improve their business knowledge so that they can evaluate the feasibility of their plan. Driven by various parties, silver entrepreneurship will become a new impetus for the future development of society.