Elizabeth Isele spent 30 years as a book editor at New York publishers. She moved to Portland, Me., in 1996 and set up a nonprofit that taught computer skills to the elderly. Now Isele, 71, is reinventing herself again, this time as an advocate for senior entrepreneurs. In recent months she’s addressed the Federal Reserve and the Senate Special Committee on Aging, asking policymakers to facilitate access to loans and other capital for older Americans starting small businesses. “It’s always been interesting to hear about someone who’s retired and opens a bicycle shop or vineyard,” she says. “I’m trying to get people to understand that this isn’t just some nice and lovely story. Seniors are driving economic opportunity and creating jobs.”
A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 73 percent of boomers expect to remain in the workforce well beyond the time they’ll be eligible to begin collecting Social Security—41 percent by choice and 32 percent by necessity. Among entrepreneurs ages 20 to 64 who founded their first businesses in 2012, 23 percent were 55 or older, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, up from 14 percent in 1996. About half of businesses started by senior entrepreneurs are still in existence after five years, according to Isele’s organization, Senior Entrepreneurship Works. That’s slightly better than the survival rate for all new businesses.