Senior entrepreneur fashion designer in her workshop

Older workers who gave up their day jobs to become entrepreneurs experienced improved quality of life—particularly in the areas of control, autonomy, self-realization and pleasure—yet had a reduction in income. (Photo by pikselstock/Shutterstock)

Canada | Small business

Older Canadians may be starting their own businesses, but they aren’t as financially lucrative as they could be 

Passion is fuelling seniors’ second careers and turning them into entrepreneurs

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For Toronto psychotherapist Virginia Markson, moving from the orchestra pit to the therapist’s chair wasn’t a far leap.

Having studied music and psychology in university—only to have her cards align as an established flute player with the National Ballet of Canada, the Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) for almost 40 years—it’s no surprise that this “other” passion flourished later on.

“Both things were extremely important to me and I shared a certain aptitude and talent [in them],” says Markson, who received her psychotherapy diploma in 2003, before retiring from the TSO at 61. “I like things I can do well!”

Markson, now 76, is just one of many aging Canadians inspired to set up shop. According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians over the age of 65 reported working in 2015—nearly double since 1995. Meanwhile, a 2018 study from the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research determined that, as of 2012, 30 per cent of Canadian start-ups were run by those 50 and older.

It’s not something that can be ignored, says Wendy Mayhew, founder of Wise-Seniors in Business and the WISE 50 over 50 Awards, particularly as the over-65 population— estimated in 2017 at more than 6.2 million according to the World Bank—increases, with projections bringing that number upwards of 10.9 million by 2036. Mayhew points out that aging Canadian entrepreneurs struggle to find the same support as their younger counterparts. The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research study concurs, reporting that 37 per cent of the respondents aged 50 and up have challenges accessing support services.

“We have to work harder faster because we are not getting the funding. We have to get to commercialization and monetization sooner,” says Mayhew. “Entrepreneurship should be a word that is inclusive of all types of ages.”

Zara Kanji, CPA, CGA, owner of accounting consulting firm Zara Kanji and Associates and a CPA Canada financial literacy volunteer, agrees funding senior entrepreneurs may not be popular, there are grants and loans available, industry dependent.

“What comes into play for seniors is, do they have the funding?” Kanji says. “Do they want to leverage their assets to fund the company? How much risk to do they want to take?”

A crucial point considering that, statistically, entrepreneurship in senior years doesn’t prove to be financially lucrative. A study conducted by the Journal of Business Venturing concluded that older workers who gave up their day jobs to become entrepreneurs experienced improved quality of life—particularly in the areas of control, autonomy, self-realization and pleasure—yet had a reduction in income.

“As unlikely as it is to be financially [lucrative], that doesn’t mean it can’t be very satisfying and a way for people to proceed. As an entrepreneur you are more flexible, [you have] a sense of control,” says Wanda Morris, vice president of advocacy and COO for CARP.

For Markson, her business provides a healthy cushioning of about $4,000 per month in addition to her pension. She admits that things may have been different had she “needed” to continue working to make ends meet. “I leapt into it because I’ve been incredibly lucky,” she says. “If I didn’t put my mind to being a therapist, I would still need to be entrepreneurial…I would not have sat still.”


Feeling Inspired? Look to CPA Canada’s entrepreneur-focused financial literacy sessions for more on launching a successful start-up, particularly the Top Five Mistakes Start-Ups Make session.