- 2012 - October - 2nd -

SBA chief encourages chasing ‘encore’ business dreams

by David Chapman, Staff Writer

The term “young” can often be associated with being an entrepreneur, but a national event being hosted in Jacksonville will showcase the possibilities and available resources for those seeking to fulfill their business dreams later in their careers.

The first National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day will showcase and focus on aspiring and existing entrepreneurs 50 years old and older, providing them with mentorship and advice for funding opportunities.

The Jacksonville location, at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Deerwood Center, will also have a special guest: Small Business Administrator Karen Mills.

The “encore” group, 50 years old and older, has experienced a boost in entrepreneurial growth over the past several years, Mills said in a Monday interview. She said specifically entrepreneur groups ages 55-64 have seen a boost. According to administration statistics, there are an estimated 356,000 people who are 50 years old or older in Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties combined, and the event is geared toward them.

Early retirement or leaving a current job later in life to pursue dreams put aside at an earlier age are a couple of reasons for the spike, but Mills said the years in the workforce help assist in becoming entrepreneurs.

“They save their best acts for the encore,” she said. “They have a lot more experience and put those years of knowledge to good use.”

Mills will be on an “Ask the Experts” panel with small business experts to provide advice for encore entrepreneurs and then spend one-on-one time with people to offer personal advice.

She said finding a mentor is the first piece of advice she provides to entrepreneurs. The adviser can talk about the business plan, help evaluate financing options, discuss expectations and determine how to proceed — or as Mills calls it, shape the “gem” of a business dream.

“Every business is specialized,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the advice and tools they (business owners) need.”

Many of the mentors who will be available to assist today are retired business owners, volunteers and members of the administration development centers.

Finding capital to fund those business goals has been tough to come by in the past, but Mills said options such as microloans are available.

She said when she started in the position in 2009, credit markets were frozen and small business owners were asking for loans to help their businesses survive. Now, they are seeking loans to grow their operations, a dramatic shift in philosophy, she said.

“We are seeing positive economic trends,” she said.

Mills said the goal for the Encore program is to assist 100,000 entrepreneurs 50 years and older within a year. It’s one she said is ambitious, but achievable.

She also said she believes the Jacksonville community will play a role in fulfilling those numbers.

“There is a great entrepreneur community in Jacksonville,” she said, detailing the small business resources in the region. “We hope to add to the Jacksonville community.”

The panel discussion featuring Mills begins at 11 a.m.



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