Boomer entrepreneurs are making it big by doing what they love

Kate Rogers in Philadelphia on boomer entrepreneurs

Bryan Kravitz has seen his career come full circle. He began repairing typewriters in the 1970s and continued his work until computers came on the scene. Then he moved into direct mail and marketing. But much to his delight and surprise, typewriters are back. And now Kravitz, at age 67, is back in the business of fixing them with his new company, Philly Typewriter.

"There's a backlog of I'd say, almost 20 machines right now," Kravitz says. He's already making money in his two-year-old venture. "I'm in really good health, I feel really good and I get up every day — what can I do, go to the golf course? Not me. I want to do things."

Kravitz says some writers prefer the sound and syncopation of typewriters when working, and he sees children come in the shop with parents as they're learning the alphabet.

Bryan Kravitz repaired typewriters for a living in the 1970s, and has launched a new business, at age 67, repairing them once again.
Source: Victor Calderin

The money he makes, he reinvests right back into the business, and he credits his savvy to his years in the workforce. "I am so much more aware, because I've had so many more experiences being in business, in doing things with people," he says. "That makes this that much easier."

Older Americans are increasingly launching new ventures. In fact, 2015 data from the Kauffman Foundation show that boomers were nearly twice as likely to plan to launch businesses than their millennial counterparts. The research group's 2016 Index of Startup Activity shows that those ages 55-to-64 represent 24.3 percent of all new entrepreneurs, compared to just 14.8 percent in the same age group in 1996.

The rise in older entrepreneurs is partially a byproduct of the new retirement, in which older workers are opting not to retire at all in the traditional sense. Another major factor is the great recession, which wreaked havoc with the savings and retirement accounts of many workers.

I feel really good and I get up every day — what can I do, go to the golf course? Not me. I want to do things
Bryan Kravitz
founder of Philly Typewriter

"I don't think there's a single definition of retirement anymore," says Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of Market Innovation for the AARP. "For many years it was assumed retirement equaled a lack of activity. [Retirees] miss the social aspect of work, they miss the purpose of work — it's an important emotional contribution to people's sense of identity and I don't think that just disappears because you hit a particular chronological age."

One advantage for older entrepreneurs, Holtzman says, is real-life experience.

"You know what works and what doesn't, you've been in small and big companies," he says. "You have a network, possibly savings or other ways to gain access to capital. All of those things come together as key success factors for building and sustaining a business."

Darrell Jennings, 63, started his business, American Music Furniture Company, in 2013. The baby boomer is joining a growing cohort of older entrepreneurs in America, opting to continue working instead of retiring.
Photo: Victor Calderin

Having savings to live off of helped Darrell Jennings, 63, in launching his business, American Music Furniture Company, in Philadelphia in 2013. Jennings makes humidifying cabinets for guitars, with his two co-founders and seven employees. The idea grew out of his love of collecting and playing the instruments.

"Guitar tops will crack if they're not humidified," Jennings says. "We were going through about three gallons of water a day in my music room at home — it was a lot of work … so I built what I wanted to have, and it turned out a lot of other people wanted to have it too."

I built what I wanted to have, and it turned out a lot of other people wanted to have it too.
Darrell Jennings
founder of American Music Furniture Company

He has seen success, even selling to musicians like Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi from the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Clay Cook from the Zac Brown Band.

Jennings, who previously worked in technology, says he'd tell other boomers to pursue their passion just the way he has.

"If there is something you want to do, and you felt you had the talent but never the opportunity to pursue, do it," he says. "I wish I had done it sooner."

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