Older Americans shun retirement at 65 for risky startups

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On his 65th birthday, physical therapist Gary Kinsey incorporated a company that makes medical devices.

“It is a huge risk,” said Kinsey, now 67, owner of North Florida Medical Solutions Inc. in Gainesville. “I have sunk everything I have into it the last two years. I have put myself out on the line.”

Older Americans such as Kinsey are increasingly shunning retirement to start companies because they see job opportunities limited after age 55, don’t have enough savings to retire comfortably or want to work for themselves.

People from ages 55 to 64 started 23.4 percent of companies in 2012, up from 14.3 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996, according to the Kauffman Foundation’s research.

“The 30-year corporate job with a gold watch isn’t there anymore,” said Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy for Kauffman. “A lot of people are not ready to retire. We are living healthier for longer, and they are looking for a main income or a supplementary income.”

While Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook as a college student at Harvard University, experienced managers may be better prepared for startups, said Jeff Mariola, 59, who in October started Chicago-based Digital BrandWorks.

“I have always wanted to own my own business,” said Mariola, whose company has 18 employees and offers Internet consulting services to manufacturers. He says it may employ 150 people in four years. “It is your baby.”

He says he’s drawing on his experience as president of Ambius, having managed a unit with more than 1,200 employees.

Ambius provides art and plants to offices and is a division of Rentokil Initial, a facilities manager based near London.

“Having experience is critical,” Mariola said. “Banks are generally conservative and want to be sure management teams understand cash flow and balance sheets, the things that underpin a business.”

More startups are on the way.

About a quarter of Americans between ages 44 and 70 are interested in creating their own company or nonprofit venture, according to November 2011 research by San Francisco-based Encore.org, which studies baby boomers’ plans for new careers.

The average age of 500 recent applicants for a Florida entrepreneurship program funded in part by the U.S. Labor Department was 51, said Michael O’Donnell, regional project manager for Startup Quest in Fort Lauderdale.

“Baby boomers are more educated and probably more entrepreneurial than earlier generations,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington.

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