February 24, 2024

‘The myth that older adults are not able to do this needs to be debunked.’
Entrepreneurship seems to have a sexy appeal the younger you are. Just look at the variety of awards out there: “20 Under 20,” “30 Under 30” and “40 Under 40” awards, recognizing the contributions youth make to our economy.

However, a big portion of the population seems to be overlooked. What about those in their 50s, 60s and 70s who are starting businesses in their retirement? Those who are not ready to embark on “traditional” retirement activities and instead go for an encore career as small-business owners.
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That’s exactly what Gary Hawkes did. He’s a former Winnipeg police officer and later a Foreign Service employee with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. He decided to embark on a third career as a small business owner. When he was 62 — two days after he officially retired — he opened Performance Tennis Shop in Old Ottawa South.

“When I saw the place for sale, I thought I’d open a café, but then I joined the local tennis club and learned how to string tennis rackets,” he said. And the rest is history. “This is the busiest career I’ve had so far, and I love it!”

For six years, Hawkes’s shop has been a fixture in the neighbourhood and has become the go-to place for local tennis players. He worked alone in his shop for almost four years and only recently hired and trained staff for his growing business — a business and sport that gained popularity because of COVID-19.

“Some of the most successful entrepreneurs are over the age of 55,” said Helen Hirsh Spence, 73, a retired high-school principal and founder of “Top Sixty Over Sixty,” a consulting business that educates and advocates for age diversity in business.

“Mature entrepreneurs bring a different kind of intelligence, stability and leadership into their ventures. The myth that older adults are not able to do this needs to be debunked. When you’re 60, you don’t curl up and die,” she said.

Just like it’s important to show representation in gender, cultural background and abilities, it is equally important to show age representation in the business world. A sense of purpose is important for everyone. “Not having a purpose is equivalent to smoking a pack a day,” said Hirsh Spence.

The best thing about Hawkes’s experience as an entrepreneur? “I feel appreciated and I feel happy that I can serve my customers and grow my team while building something that I’m passionate about.”

Hawkes made the decision to open the business because he was a financially comfortable retiree. “Some are not that lucky and the older we are, the less support from government, hubs and incubators there is,” said Hirsh Spence.

Many of the business development services, funding and other support offered in Canada are geared to young entrepreneurs, despite the fact that more than one-third of new businesses are founded by people over 50, according to a 2018 study on senior entrepreneurship produced by the Centre for Elder Research at Ontario’s Sheridan College.

Speaking with both Hirsh Spence and Hawkes, I felt that their energy and joy for what they do was contagious. They give no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“I remember when I was a kid and my grandfather, a former farmer, retired,” says Hawkes. “He had nothing to do, he’d only watch TV and sit on the couch. I told myself: ‘I will never want to retire!’ ”

Karla Briones is a local immigrant entrepreneur and owner of Global Pet Foods Kanata & Hintonburg; Freshii Westboro; founder of the Immigrants Developing Entrepreneurs Academy; and an independent business consultant. The opinions here are her own. Her column appears every two weeks.

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