State College

Older entrepreneurs look to make golden years gilded

Daniel Supko has spent most of his career in industrial labs, poring over the alchemy of metal, machines and manufacturing. He’s set to retire from Penn State, where he works as an engineering support specialist, in June.

But Supko, 61, isn’t looking to ride off into the sunset. For someone who has spent most of his life forging something from nothing, old habits, he’s finding, die hard.

“I don’t think I’m fully ready to quit being preoccupied,” he said, laughing.

He’s in good company. On Wednesday, Supko and about 20 others filled a second-floor room of the Penn State Federal Credit Union, learning how to launch a business and, for some, the next chapter of their lives. Supko, for instance, hopes to start his own small manufacturing firm after he retires. He may be getting older, he said, but making money never does.

Hosted by the Penn State Small Business Development Center, the inaugural “Boomer to Business” talk covered topics ranging from negotiating retirement and business income to the qualities older entrepreneurs bring to the table.

“We’ve been in discussions for several months for doing a boomer-to-business workshop because it’s a growing and emerging segment of the population,” said Michael Ryan, a business analyst with the SBDC. “They’re hitting retirement age and deciding it’s not time to call it quits.”

By 2029, more than a fifth of the U.S. population will be older than 65, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and fewer are looking to spend their golden years graying. Compared to the general population, workers 55-and-over are more likely to be self-employed, the BLS reported.

While millennials get more attention in both business and popular culture, experts say it’s their elders who are succeeding at higher rates. According to the Kauffman Startup Index, baby boomers are nearly twice as likely to start a business as millennials.

Older entrepreneurs have several advantages over their younger counterparts. They’ve accrued more capital or access to credit over time, Ryan said, and have fewer commitments. Debts, meanwhile, are more likely to have been resolved.

“They don’t have to worry about that anymore,” he said. “Whereas with millennials, they may have student-loan debt or be starting a family. They can be flexible and have money to work with, whereas someone in another demographic may not.”

Then there’s experience. Having been there and done that goes a long way.

“It’s been a very interesting career and I’ve paid attention to things,” Supko said. “I hope to use that to my advantage for the second half of my life.”

Despite the leg-up, older entrepreneurs still have to balance risk and retirement. Tom Jordan, who runs an acupuncture practice, said his business has had to pivot as clients have moved away. He’s thinking about expanding into the online market, and hoping to reach customers through herbal supplements. But before he does, he’d like to get his affairs in order.

“I’ve been in business awhile and it’s always good to refresh and look at the tax info,” he said.

Supko, meanwhile, is hoping to be a first-time business owner. Coming to talks such as Wednesday’s are invaluable, he said, and illustrate the growing culture of entrepreneurship in the region. According to the analysis website FiveThirtyEight, State College was the 19th-fastest growing market for new startups in 2014.

“Why not find out for free before you lose $100,000?” he said. “It just makes sense to prepare for the investment.”

Though his retirement is nearing, in some ways he’s just getting started. He prefers it that way.

“I still have a lot of life left and a lot of energy,” he said, “and I hate to not use it to my advantage.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy