Older Entrepreneurs

Older Entrepreneurs: Michael Grottola

June 27, 2011

Two years ago, Michael Grottola, 67 of Upper Saddle River, N.J., lost his job as a senior executive in charge of technology at global auditing company during a mass layoff of top management as a result of the Great Recession. Initially devastated and depressed, Mike slowly regained his characteristic energy and enthusiasm. He reflected on his lifetime of experience and decided to become an independent consultant, helping new business founders gain access to capital. Through his own new consulting business, Mike has now become a partial owner of a startup energy conservation company.

“I took the skills and talents I’ve been blessed with, I’ve matched them to up to market need, and I’ve been able to see a way forward, and go for it,” Mike said. He views his age, experience and gray hairs as valuable assets in his burgeoning entrepreneurial activities. “I’m having a blast,” he said.

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Older Entrepreneurs: Olive Lynch

May 16, 2011

Olive Lynch, 52, has an eclectic work history — she trained and performed as an opera singer before becoming a business and data analyst for large corporations.  When she was laid off for nine months in 2008, she explored the idea of founding her own company and researched new composting technologies.  In her video, she  describes the plans for her startup, as well as the innovative technology that she plans to use to recycle food wastes that will convert them into biofuel and protein meal.

“I like to analyze, always have, but there’s a side of me that is creative.  Like, if I’m faced with a problem, I don’t have to solve it the way everyone else does.  I’ll look and say, ‘Well, let’s do it a different way.'”

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Older Entrepreneurs: Lorraine Campman

March 28, 2011

Lorraine Campman, 56, founder of Music Oasis Lifelong Learning Center, teaches group piano to adults at community center located in Providence Township, Penn.  Uninspired by office jobs, Lorraine, an independent piano teacher since 1977, attended entrepreneurial training classes offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia in 2007.  Shortly after she began teaching her first adult music classes, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which derailed her new business plans for two years.  Fortunately, in 2010, she was able to begin implementing her five-year new business plan that had been put on hold during her treatment and recovery.  She gave this advice to prospective entrepreneurs:

Don’t let the music die inside of you.  If you have a dream, find a way of fulfilling that dream, and there are going to be rough spots in the road along the way, but you have to persevere, accept the help that’s available out there and do what you can to make it happen.

Lorraine added these thoughts about her entrepreneurial transformation:

I’ve been an independent piano teacher since 1977.  Many people have the false assumption that when you are self-employed, you can make your own hours, but actually you have to work when your customers/students are available.  For me this meant my income producing hours were limited to after school and evenings.

I had been reading in my professional journals about the concept of Recreational Music Making for adults, and saw it as an opportunity to do something new on a ground-breaking level.  Through some networking I learned of an opportunity to purchase a used piano lab.   I took an entrepreneurial training class called Start Smart from Women’s Opportunity Resource Center (WORC) in Philadelphia.

WORC helped me evaluate my idea, develop a business plan and launch my new micro-enterprise, Music Oasis Life Long Learning Center, group piano for active retired adults.  WORC supports the development of micro-enterprises, in which a business grows in small increments without incurring too much debt up front.

For me that meant starting by teaching through my township’s Park and Recreation Department, then taking my course “on the road” to senior centers and retirement communities, installing my digital pianos as needed.  My eventual goal is to develop enough of a following that I am able to open a music school in retail space and have a fully functioning piano lab where students each sit at their own instrument and use headphones for privacy.


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Older Entrepreneurs: Deborah Ramsey

March 21, 2011

In 2008, Deborah Ramsey, 56, opened Natural Wellness and Spa in Philadelphia, Penn. The spa offers services and products to women and seniors.  Deborah was inspired to found her own business after she had suffered through a couple of corporate layoffs.  She relied on WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) to help her become a new business founder.

Deborah emailed these added thoughts about her transformation from an employee to a entrepreneur:

Had I known how great the rewards were that awaited me I would have started my own business a long time ago. Has it been a struggle…? YES INDEED!  But so is life. Fear and apprehension held me back until I decided to be in charge of me! I banished fear, apprehension and every other negative thought and emotion to a remote island.  When they try to revisit I don’t open that door because I’ve learned to put courage and confident where those negative things were. I believe  more firmly now that we were created to eat and live from the work of our own hands.

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Older Entrepreneurs: Elsie Bowen & three more interviews online

February 23, 2011

Today, we are adding our third video to our Older Entrepreneur blog series as well as three more video interviews from California.

We now have 66 interviews online with Americans who are Over 50 and Out of Work.  We’re nearing our goal of 100!

Elsie Bowen, 55, founded Precious Jewels Day Care eight years ago in Philadelphia, Penn. with the assistance of WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) and the preparatory course in childcare development that she took at a nearby YMCA.  Although she has struggled through financial difficulties as a small business owner, Elsie would do it all over again.

“It feels good to be your own boss,” said Elsie, a registered nurse.

Mercedes Paez, 69 of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., was born in Managua, Nicaragua.  She immigrated to the United States at the age of 19 and began working in the garment industry in 1959.  She lost her most recent job in August 2008 due to the Great Recession and outsourcing.  Now, she is struggling to pay her rent and expenses, as prices rise, on her fixed Social Security and unemployment benefit payments.  She is determined to return to work, but finding it difficult, given the large number of applicants for any job she seeks in California, where the statewide unemployment rate, one of the highest in the country, is 12.5 percent.

Lorraine Contreras, 60, is a native Californian who now lives in Pico Rivera.  She worked as a bookkeeper for 23 years, but lost her job in 2007 when her employer was acquired by a larger company.  Since then she has supported herself in an assortment of odd jobs – caregiving, cleaning, babysitting. “Whatever it takes,” Lorraine said.  She owns and lives in a mobile home, but has been forced to take in a roommate to make ends meet.  Although Lorraine has an associate degree, she has been dismayed to learn that employers are now requiring applicants for bookkeeping positions to have a bachelor’s degree and be skilled in accounting software that she does not know.  She is taking adult classes to update her skills. A born-again Christian, Lorraine maintains an optimistic attitude toward the obstacles she is encountering in her job search.

Ramiro Flores, 76 of Whittier, Calif., had a 40-year career in sales for the graphic arts and printing industry.  In early 2010, at his last position, he agreed to take a 50 percent pay cut when the printing company where he worked experienced declining orders due to the Great Recession.  Despite his sacrifice, he lost his job in April 2010.  Although he collects Social Security and is on Medicare, Ramiro wants to return to work and searches for a job daily.   Working makes him feel vital and alive.

More on Over 50 and Out of Work:

•    We will be heading to South Carolina and Louisiana at the end of the month to conduct more interviews.
•    Please contribute your own Over 50 and Out of Work written story to our site through Comments or use our how-to blog post and send us your own video story.

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Older Entrepreneurs: Gerry Fioriglio

February 14, 2011

Today, we’ve added our second video interview to our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs.

Gerry Fioriglio, a 57-year-old registered nurse, founded Family Caregivers Network in Pennsburg, Penn. with one employee – herself.  Ten years later, the company has 70 employees, who provide home care, community education, caregiver support groups in a five county area.

Gerry never envisioned herself as entrepreneur, but after she had been laid off several times by large corporations, she enrolled in StartSmart offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia. The program helped her write a comprehensive five-year business plan and connected her with resources to launch her own company.   As a business founder, Gerry finds gratification in the job security she has created for herself and her ability to give back to the community where she lives.

Gerry Fioriglio’s advice for entrepreneurs:

Statistics show there are more small businesses started during a “down economy” than during a stable economy.  However, it’s not necessarily when you start a small business, but more important who you are and if you have the fortitude to start a small business.

If you are thinking of starting a small business, do your homework and be cautious.  Plan on working many more hours than a traditional 9 to 5 job.  In small business, your work does not end at 5 p.m.

In the beginning, you cannot afford a billing department or other management staff, so you become the person who does it all.  When I started my business I was the nurse, but also my own administrative assistant, biller, receptionist, and recruiter.  It was a lot of hard work.

But I remember what they told us at WORC; when you think you can’t do it anymore just relax and remember the sun WILL come up tomorrow and you can start again.  I hung onto that for a long time.

The homework you need to do before starting a small business:

1.      Do market research of your product or service to be sure it is a viable business and understand who your competitors are.

2.     Do a 5-year business plan with financials and a marketing plan.   Refer to it often to see if you are hitting your goals both in product/service and finance.

3.     Remember to keep your overhead low.  That is survival for small business.  If not, you will quickly get into financial trouble.

4.     If you need to finance your business don’t go overboard.  Stick to the basics of what you need.

5.     Market and network your business immediately.  In the beginning, you become your business; your name becomes synonymous with your business name.

6.     Get to know other small business owners so you can be a support to each other.

Some may think it is luck if you succeed, but it all boils down to: Did you do your homework first?

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Older Entrepreneurs: Gerry Fioriglio, business founder, values mature workers

February 10, 2011

Next week, we’ll be adding our video interview with Gerry Fioriglio, founder of Family Caregivers Network, Inc., to our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs.  Today, though, we’ve added a short clip from Gerry’s interview in advance!

In this clip, Gerry talks about how difficult it is for her to find qualified new employees for her home care business.  Yet, encouragingly for our project demographic, as a small business owner, Gerry has found that mature workers are often her best employees.

The topics that Gerry discusses in this very short clip — acquiring new skills for new positions, the value that mature workers can bring to organizations, health coverage for employees, accepting lower pay in new jobs — are all recurring themes in our Over 50 and Out of Work multimedia documentary project.

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Older Entrepreneurs: Regina Mason

February 7, 2011

Today, we are kicking off our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs.

Our first video features Regina Mason, 54, founder and owner of Virago Baking Company in Lansdale, Penn. that specializes in natural and organic, gluten free and vegan foods. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Regina’s working career has been spent in the food services industry. After coping with several layoffs, Regina knew that she wanted to open her own business. With the help of the StartSmart program offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia, Penn., she launched her bakery and café three years ago. In her video interview, Regina talks about her passion for baking healthy foods and entrepreneurship.

Regina has also shared her Top Tips for prospective new business founders with us. She writes:

Starting your own business can be very exciting. It also can be very overwhelming.

You ask yourself:

• Where will I get the money to make it happen?
• Who will help with all the work?
• How can I afford to market the business?

I know I had all of these questions, and some days I still do. Here’s my advice:

• Utilize every resource available from government, personal, friends and family for the financial part. I used equity in my home, credit cards and savings. It’s scary, but you need to trust yourself. I also have been fortunate to have people who just wanted to help.

• Staffing without having the finances is also possible with the help of interns. Students have contacted me because they want to learn what we do at our bakery, and they need work hours for graduation. They volunteer to work for free for a set time in exchange for the opportunity to learn from us. When the job market is slow, it is very hard for these students to find paying jobs to complete their education. You give them internships to get experience, and they help you get the
work done!

• Everyone knows that you need to market your business, and marketing is not just about advertising. Social media and the Internet allow a business to market without spending much money. A good Web site is a must, but after that it’s all about driving traffic to your site and your place of business. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and many more give you a way to communicate with potential customers in a fun, casual way. If you are not familiar with how these work, ask your kids, remember those interns, they will show you! Search the Internet for your type of businesses and see where other similar businesses are listed. There are many free directories where you can post your business information. Upload photos, but don’t forget your logo!

• Most important — go for it with passion and you will find success!

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