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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 00:11 GMT
Mature entrepreneurs come of age
By Katie Hunt
Business reporter, BBC News

Myreen Young
Myreen Young began making skincare products in her kitchen
Estee Lauder was in her 30s when she began selling the now-famous beauty products that launched her global cosmetics empire.

At 56, Myreen Young is almost twice her age but lacks none of the ambition of her business role model.

Based in a backstreet office opposite a park in Southampton, Ms Young has recently launched her own skincare range.

She is one of an increasing number of over-50s who are starting their own businesses when most of their contemporaries are getting ready for retirement.

A trained aromatherapist, Ms Young had long mixed her own massage and bath oils in her kitchen to use at the beauty salon she still runs. Customers liked her products and asked why they couldn't buy them.

Just under two years ago, she remortgaged her home, took out a bank loan and maxed out her credit cards. With the help of a local skin scientist, she then launched her skincare line.

"I've always wanted to challenge myself. Regardless of age," she says.

Growing trend

Research commissioned by Yellow Pages suggests that one in six new businesses started in the UK are run by over-50s and that they contribute 24.4bn to the UK economy a year.

Many, like Ms Young, tap years of experience in a profession before starting out on their own.

When I was young, I thought it was strange if someone wore jeans over 40 but it's all different now
Ann Litster, 52-year-old owner of Hands On Cleaning

Others set up after being made redundant, encountering age discrimination or discovering they cannot live on their pension, says Laurie South, executive director of Prime, an organisation that advises over-50s thinking of starting a business.

"You still have a third of your life ahead of you, but the reality is that you are unlikely to find a new job," he says.

According to Prime, if you lose your job at 50, you have a one in 10 chance of finding a new position.

Age discrimination

Graham Siggs set up his business in Cambridgeshire after retiring from the civil service. While he could live on his pension, he didn't feel quite ready to wind down.

"To find work at 60 is very difficult. I saw many high-flyers from the civil service end up stacking shelves," Mr Siggs says.

Contribute 24.4bn to economy
Average turnover of 67,500 a year
Now account for 1 in 6 UK start-ups
Two-thirds regret not setting up earlier
Majority want to run their businesses as long as possible
Source: Vanson Bourne

Instead, Mr Siggs decided to go it alone and set up a firm that tests electrical appliances for safety, a field which he has been involved in for many years.

He is content to keep things small and has no intention of taking on any other employees, even though he is turning away business.

"I've done all the managing of other people I want to do," he says.

Like Mr Siggs, almost 80% of entrepreneurs over 50 are happy to keep their businesses either a lone concern or compact, with between one and five employees.

Gender difference

Older man using electronic organiser
Many over-50s start their own business after redundancy
Although older women start fewer businesses than men, women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to set up businesses following big life changes such as ill-health, divorce or moving house.

Ann Litster, 52, set up her cleaning business two years ago after finding herself unemployed, living in a tiny rented cottage with a 12-year-old to support and only 400 to her name

Using the money to buy a ream of yellow paper and a printer, she produced hundreds of leaflets and delivered them door-to-door with the help of her son.

Anti-ageism ad
Others set up their own firms after facing age discrimination

Hands on Cleaning now employs 23 people in her town of Clevedon in Somerset and Ms Litster is beginning to franchise the firm.

"It's about financial independence," says Mark Hart, a professor of small business research at Kingston University.

"Even if the business is not scaleable, it allows them to be independent from the vagaries of the pension system and a partner's income or independent from state benefit," he says.

More help needed

Laurie South at Prime thinks the government should do more to help older people start their own businesses.

"There are fewer and fewer younger people and yet we're not putting any energy into helping older people be economically active," he says.

Prime estimates that one in three people aged between 50 and retirement age are without work - a much higher proportion than three decades ago. About a third of those say they want to work.

Myreen Young
Even the big names started out small
Myreen Young

The government allows over-50s considering starting their own business to retain benefits while they test the water, but they have to be unemployed for six months before becoming eligible for the scheme.

However, Professor Hart at Kingston University cautions against placing too much emphasis on self-employment to solve Britain's looming pension crisis.

He argues that the government needs a more wide ranging strategy to combat ageism in the workplace and solve pension needs.


There is some evidence that "third-age" entrepreneurs are more successful than those starting out in their 20s and 30s, says Mr South at Prime.

"They have, in some cases, 30 years of work experience, they have a network and they have credibility with a bank."

Myreen Young will certainly be hoping Mr South is correct.

While most third-age entrepreneurs tend to finance their business through savings, Ms Young is more than 68,000 in debt and even pays wages by credit card.

Initial signs are encouraging. Thirty salons across the UK now stock her range, MY Skincare, and her accountant expects her business to turn over 250,000 in the first full year of trading.

"I always say to myself Estee Lauder started out selling her creams from her garage," she says.

"Even the big names started out small."

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