Top Boomer Business Ideas
There's never been a better time for midcareer professionals to become entrepreneurs, says Furlong, a nationally recognized expert on boomer entrepreneurship. The confluence of several key factors -- an aging U.S. population, a roller coaster economy driving companies to lay off older employees, and the growth of internet-based business tools and social networks -- is driving unprecedented opportunities.
"One of my colleagues says the world's emerging markets are Brazil, Russia, India, China and boomers," Furlong says. "If you don't want to move to Sao Paulo, you can look at this landscape and what opportunities are here."
A new report on boomers and work underscores Furlong's thinking. As many as 25 million people, or one in four Americans, ages 44 to 70 are interested in starting a business or nonprofit organization in the next five to 10 years, according to a new report this week from Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation.
Furlong has a track record of predicting boomer and senior trends. In the 1980s, the Lafayette, Calif., resident started SeniorNet, an online community for seniors that predated the internet. In the 1990s, she launched ThirdAge, which remains a top online destination for female boomers.
Today, she consults with companies marketing to boomers and teaches entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. She also hosts an annual Silicon Valley venture capital conference that funds innovations by and for boomers, and is organizing the upcoming What's Next Boomer Business Summit, scheduled for March 2012 in Washington, D.C.
Here are five boomer-driven markets Furlong says hold promise for people looking to start a business:
1. Frugal living.
Frugal is the new black. Middle-aged workers who have lost jobs or seen their retirement funds take a hit due to the economy are more cost-conscious than ever, Furlong says. "The brands they're embracing are the Dollar Tree, JC Penney and Kohl's, Groupon and Living Social, Costco for their flu shots and Walgreens for their dental clinics," she says. That trend bodes well for entrepreneurs who can offer other frugal-living innovations.
2. Stress relief.
The Sandwich Generation is stressed out from juggling work, taking care of aging parents and supporting adult children who've moved home because of the economy. That opens up opportunities for small-business startups that deliver products and services to help boomers alleviate stress. For example, the winner of a student design contest at the Aging Means Business conference in Boston this month devised a new pain-relief back support. "It's low-tech, but still interesting," Furlong says. Another promising design in the competition: an office chair that monitors people's vital signs. As boomers stay on the job longer, "It will be important for people to have smart furniture that tells them when to take a break," she says.
3. Senior housing.
A major topic at the Aging Means Business conference was how to make communities more livable so that seniors who need assistance have more options than what's available today, Furlong says. For example one architect shared drawings of a model nursing home with a climbing wall where visiting grandchildren could play, she says.
The nation's existing public transportation system can't accommodate suburban dwellers who want to stay at home as they age. That creates opportunities for private transportation companies that can drive seniors to medical or other appointments, but it doesn't end there. "I'm looking for the pontoon party car [service] that would have a driver so you could go out with your friends party-hopping," Furlong says.
5. Personal services.
Look at where people are retiring -- cities such as Colorado Springs, Colo., Ashland, Ore., and Sarasota, Fla. -- and open a business that provides services they need. Those services could range from offering in-home health care, handyman services or computer help to providing fun activities for older people to do with their families, such as running a teddy bear-making shop or art studio, she says.
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