5 gutsy second-career moves for any age

Susan Caminiti, special to CNBC.com. Additional reporting by Kimberley Bainbridge

Encore acts that found success

Frank and Helena | Cultura RM | Getty Images

Don't be misled: Today's entrepreneur isn't by definition a confident 20-something striking out on their own to start the next Facebook or Twitter. In truth, it's more likely that an entrepreneur is closer to 50 or over—and the start-up is the beginning of a second, or even third, career.

According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, over the last decade Americans ages 55 to 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than men and women ages 20 to 34.

So-called encore entrepreneurs take their accumulated skills and experience to start a wide range of firms, from socially minded nonprofits to for-profit enterprises. Sometimes it's just about relishing the freedom that comes from being their own boss.

Ellen Thrasher, director of the Small Business Administration's Office of Entrepreneurship Education, said men and women with 20 or 30 years in the workforce are well suited for entrepreneurship. "They have all this experience with time management and dealing with lots of different people—all of which is put to use when you run your own company."

Here are five encore entrepreneurs, ranging in age from 48 to 76, who have found success following unique business passions.

By Susan Caminiti, special to CNBC.com. Additional reporting by Kimberley Bainbridge
Posted 08 May 2015

Yuval Zaliouk—YZ Enterprises

Yuval Zaliouk, founder of YZ Enterprises
Source: YZ Enterprises

After retiring from a career as conductor of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in 1989, Yuval Zaliouk, 75, had a decision to make. He could either move his family to take on another conducting assignment or try his hand at something else. He chose the latter and started a business baking cookies from his kitchen, based on his beloved grandmother's recipe. "My grandmother would have killed me," said Zaliouk. "The recipe was a secret."

Zaliouk's Almondina cookies—named after his grandmother Dina and the almond flavor of the crispy wafer—are cholesterol-free and contain no added fat, salt or preservatives. Health-conscious snackers took to the treat immediately, and the brand is now sold throughout the U.S. at grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Albertsons and Fairway Market.

"People in the arts are not always at kinship with business, but they can think outside the box," Zaliouk said. "A huge part of the music-director job in America is selling your shows and making sure that people show up to the theaters. I was very successful at that in Toledo."

Though Zaliouk is still Almondina's CEO and owner, he said that these days his daughter and son-in-law run most of the business. The two were responsible for introducing Toasties, a miniature version of the popular cookie that is meant for easy snacking.

Judi Henderson-Townsend—Mannequin Madness

Judi Henderson-Townsend, Mannequin Madness founder
Source: Mannequin Madness

You could say Judi Henderson-Townsend has a head for business—and legs, arms, feet and a torso, too. That's because she's the founder of Mannequin Madness, an Oakland, California-based business that sells, rents and recycles mannequins.

Henderson-Townsend, 57, had a career in corporate sales at Johnson & Johnson and United Airlines before stumbling on a business owner selling mannequins on Craigslist in 2000. She offered to buy his entire inventory for $2,500 and start her own company. The decision was so spur-of-the-moment, she said, that Mannequin Madness was the only logical name.

The business now operates out of a 1,300-square-foot warehouse. Retailers, including Sears, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren and Kohl's, have sent thousands of mannequins to the company to recycle, sell or rent rather than pay hefty fees to dispose of them. Small retailers, including those who sell on eBay, are also Henderson-Townsend's customers.

"For a company, throwing away mannequins can get expensive," said Henderson-Townsend.

Henderson-Townsend said she knew the business was taking off when people started calling from outside the country: "One time I got a call from Prada in Italy. They wanted a special mannequin that we'd received from Ralph Lauren that had been discontinued by the manufacturer."

She also said she had to fail before she succeeded as an entrepreneur. "I'd failed at starting a business representing and booking artists. So I'd lost my confidence. I couldn't find a bank that would give me a loan to start a business."

Henderson had a brief stint at a dot-com, where she learned how to extend her reach with technology, and when she was starting Mannequin Madness, she received a $100,00 grant from Intel for her ability to use tech in a nontech business.

Heidi Ganahl—Camp Bow Wow

Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow
Source: Camp Bow Wow

Before starting Camp Bow Wow, a chain of canine day-care centers, in 2000, Heidi Ganahl, 48, was a pharmaceutical saleswoman, a certified financial planner and the owner of a baby-bedding catalog. Nothing about these careers stirred her passion, and after losing her first husband, Bion, in a plane accident, Ganahl felt lost. Her brother suggested she give Camp Bow Wow a try. It was a business idea she had with Bion, but one that was put on hold after his death. With money from her husband's life insurance settlement, she opened the first Camp Bow Wow in Denver and by 2003 starting franchising the concept. Today there are more than 150 locations throughout the U.S., and last year franchisees pulled in $85 million in revenue.

Ganahl gave up a cushy life to follow her gut. "Pharmaceuticals are the golden handcuffs. I was making good money with good benefits, but I was bored," she said. At the time I started, doggy day care was just becoming a thing in larger markets."

The first Camp Bow Wow started with 10 employees. Today the company employs about 3,000, including franchise employees. Camp Bow Wow is currently available in 40 states and Canada. It has in-store sites and home-care aides.

The company's success reached its apex last August, when it was acquired by VCA, a publicly traded veterinary-care company with a market capitalization over $4 billion.

Ganahl, who still serves as company CEO, said, "I was able to hire a president to run the day-to-day, and being acquired by VCA has been great. They are one of the leaders in veterinary care. They've left us alone to do what we do best, which is franchise, but they've also connected us with a lot of great resources and connections."

Ganahl said her current focus is on technology. "We're working on apps and services that allow pet owners to FaceTime with their pets," she said. "We work with DogVacay, which is the Uber of pet travel." DogVacay matches pet sitters with people who are traveling.

Wally Blume—Denali Flavors

Wally Blume, CEO and founder of Denali Flavors.
Source: Denali Flavors

Wally Blume went straight into the dairy business after college. It has been his life ever since. So after the company he had worked at for decades went through an acquisition and then started turning out ice-cream flavors such as tomato and guava, Blume decided it was time to become his own ice-cream boss.

In 1995, while in his late 50s, he started Denali Flavors and created the wildly popular Moose Tracks ice-cream line, an irresistible blend of vanilla ice cream, peanut better and fudge. Denali now has more than 40 different ice-cream flavors sold in grocery stores throughout the U.S. Through licensing agreements with multiple manufacturers, the brand brings in more than $80 million a year in sales.

Launching Denali Flavors was the right call, Blume said, because the "respected premium-flavor house" that he worked for lost a lot of business when it was sold to an ingredient conglomerate.

"We were selling to consumers in the Midwest, and I know those kinds of flavors (tomato and guava) weren't going to sell there." In Michigan they are Moose Tracks people.

The business model is also different than most national creameries. Rather than sell the ice cream, Denali Flavors sells the recipes to store-brand manufacturers. The company was one of the first to take this approach in the ice-cream market.

"Moose Tracks sells like vanilla, so I would tell stores to order it like vanilla, and sure enough, the flavor would outsell vanilla in some stores."

Denali has gone from two brands to 82. Moose Tracks will also be in the chip aisle as a trail mix for the first time this year.

Im Ja Choi—Penn Asian Senior Services

Im Ja Choi and her mother
Source: Im Ja Choi

By the time she was 57, Choi had two successful careers under her belt—first as a top real estate agent in Philadelphia and then, after earning a master's degree, as a vice president at a local bank. She never thought she'd be a business owner. But when she couldn't find a Korean-speaking home health aide for her ailing, elderly mother—who did not speak English or eat American food—Choi realized there were other folks in the same situation.

That was the catalyst for Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), a home health-aide agency that she started in 2005 to serve Philadelphia's local immigrant population. Today PASSi provides home care to the elderly in 11 languages and employs nearly 400 workers.

"When I finally found a health aide who spoke the language, she was coming from out of town. She was traveling all the way from Connecticut," said Choi. "My church friend and mother's friends all saw that I found someone and started to ask how. I founded the Korean American Senior Services. It took a year to get my home-care agency license."

Choi said the hardest part about starting her business was funding. "Twice I had to take out an equity line to meet payday for my employees. It was over two years before I could finally compensate myself," she said.

She said she was fortunate to obtain seed money from friends. "I knew politicians. I'd always been interested in women's issues, and through volunteer work, I had developed 30 or 40 connections as well as knowledge [in these types of matters]."