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Entrepreneurs workshop to tap skills of over 50s

Posted by Francis O' Toole on March 26, 2012

Entrepreneurs workshop to tap skills of over 50s
Monday, March 26, 2012

People aged 50 and over are still much less likely to start their own business than younger age cohorts.

This is something that Ireland’s county and city enterprise boards, in conjunction with an EU initiative called “Senior Enterprise”, is hoping to change. “Sometimes people think they might be too old, but I have found the opposite,” says Cathy Whitty, who was 59 when she set up her specialist food firm, Cathy’s Spelt for Health, in Tinahely, Co Wicklow. “When I do tastings in shops, people say ‘good on you’.”

Whitty is one of a group of mentors who will speak about their experiences starting businesses at a two-day workshop for potential “senior entrepreneurs” to be held in Portlaoise in May. It was nothing short of anaphylactic shock that sparked Whitty’s entrepreneurialism. In hospital after a severe allergic reaction, she was placed on an exclusion diet by doctors unable to pinpoint the cause, and the “no wheat” rule prompted her to experiment with spelt baking. With assistance from the Wicklow County Enterprise Board and a promotional boost from SuperValu’s Recipe for Success competition, what started out as a cottage business with some shelf space in a local health food store now has its range of spelt bread pre-mixes, stocked in 130 shops.

About 3,400 people aged 50-64 started their own business in Ireland last year – about 14 per cent of all new entrepreneurs – according to Colm O’Gorman, professor of entrepreneurship at DCU, who based his calculation on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor data.

“As a society, Ireland needs to call upon all the entrepreneurial talent available, regardless of age,” says Sheelagh Daly of the county and city enterprise boards. Peter Cullen, another mentor on the Senior Entrepreneurs programme, was “just about over 50” when he started his company, the Jelly Bean Factory, with his son Richard. It was a case of starting over for Cullen, as his previous confectionery company had gone into receivership. “We had no money, no income,” he says. What he did have, however, was faith in the product.

The Jelly Bean Factory, now the biggest producer of jelly beans in Europe, has been a major success, exporting to 50 countries. “To be quite honest with you, I don’t care what age you are – if you’re 16 or 76, if you’ve got a good idea, why should age be a barrier?” asks Cullen. “If I see a good opportunity out there, I’m not going to look at my birth certificate.”

Information on the senior entrepreneurs workshop in the Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise, on May 8th-9th is available at seniorenterprise.ie.

Laura Slattery, The Irish Times, 26/3/2012

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