10/06/2012 01:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2012

Missing the Shots You Never Take

The famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

With 30 years added to longevity in the 20th century, people 55 and older need to think about how they want to spend the rest of their extended lives and what chances to take. Do you want to climb a mountain? Or maybe start a new business?

Our 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Center for Productive Longevity, has organized four meetings in 2012 called, "Spotlight on Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Baby Boomers." I'm continuously encouraged by the overwhelming response of people 50 and older who genuinely want to learn more about later-life entrepreneurship.

We held the first meeting on March 27 at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, MO, the seedbed for entrepreneurship in America. The second meeting was held on September 14 at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, which U.S. News & World Report has ranked number one in entrepreneurship education among post-secondary schools in the U.S. for each of the past 19 years.

Both meetings were a great success, generating enthusiasm among people ranging from 50-90 years old who are eager to take chances and enjoy their lives to the fullest. A large majority of the 120 participants at the Babson meeting indicated on their evaluations that they were more likely to create a new business as a result of the meeting. AARP and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) are sponsors for all four meetings.

The inspirational speakers from this last meeting included Leonard Schlesinger, Babson president; Ralph Sorenson, former Babson president and founder of its Center for Entrepreneurship; and Douglas Rauch, who retired after 31 years with Trader Joe's after spending a majority of the time as president. He was substantially responsible for turning a company with seven small grocery stores in Southern California into one of the most successful natural food retail chains, now with 365 locations.

These meetings have been impactful because the reality is that entrepreneurs are the backbone of the U.S. economy. Small companies with less than 100 employees have created more than 60 percent of all private sector jobs over the last 20 years, while large companies have laid off 4.4 million workers during this period. The American spirit of individuality, self-reliance, perseverance and resilience goes back to Revolutionary Days. Paul Revere, who rode his horse at night with only a lantern to guide him to warn that the British were coming, had his own silversmith company.

So why should people 50+ take a shot at entrepreneurship? Here are some reasons:

• Many older people are attracted by the opportunity to create a business that is responsive to their unique needs, interests, and desires.
• After years of working for others, complying with established policies and procedures, creating a new business enables people to "march to their own drummer."
• People 50+ have many years of experience, expertise, seasoned judgment and proven performance, (we call it EESP) to support creating a new business.
• They have developed a network of contacts and relationships in the business world that can facilitate creating a new business.
• Many people don't want to sit on the sidelines for their extended longevity (which can be another 30 years or longer) or lack the financial resources to do so.
• Older people who continue in productive activities live longer, enjoy better health, and report greater satisfaction with life than those who don't.

The next two "Spotlight on Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Baby Boomers" meetings are scheduled as follows:
• October 11 at Northwestern University/Kellogg School of Management in Chicago with James Shein, professor of entrepreneurship, Kellogg School, and Paul Magelli, senior director, Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as speakers.

• November 15 at University of Denver-University College with John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado and former entrepreneur (invitation accepted, pending emergencies), Courtney Price, president & CEO, VentureQuest, and Jody Holtzman, senior vice president-thought leadership, AARP as speakers.

More information about these meetings can be found on our website at It may be your turn to take a shot.