7 Military Veterans Who Became Entrepreneurs Later in Life

u-s-flagOn November 11, Americans observe Veterans Day to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces. The occasion has this blogger thinking about veterans who apply their military traits and skills – such as leadership, teamwork, discipline and focus – to start a business.

Apparently it happens regularly. One research brief  from Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that veterans are at least 45% more likely to be self-employed than those with no active duty military experience.

Here’s a look at seven military vets who went the entrepreneurial route:

David Oreck quit college to enlist in the Army Air Corps.  At age 40, he started the Oreck Corporation in 1963 to make upright vacuum cleaners for the U.S hotel industry. Today, Oreck’s company produces and sells vacuums, steam mops and other cleaning products for both hotels and homes.

Paul A. Sperry served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.  A life-long sailor, Sperry almost lost his life to a slippery deck and spent years trying to perfect a non-slip shoe. One cold day in 1935, the 40-year-old Sperry was watching his dog dart across the ice when he came up with an idea: carving grooves – like those on his dog’s paws – into the bottom of a rubber sole.  That moment led to the invention of the Sperry deck shoe.

Laurie Sayles Artis spent more than 20 years in corporate America after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. In her 50s, she founded Civility Management Solutions, which does federal government contracting. Among the resources that helped her entrepreneurial transition were SCORE, Kauffman FastTrac and the Veteran Institute for Procurement.”I finally feel like I’ve found the thing to do so I can leave a legacy for myself as well as my family,” she says in a podcast interview with “Veteran on the Move.”

James Bragg (“Capt. James”) was a U.S. Navy navigator who spent a lot of time on ships that went in and out of the Caribbean. His last duty station took him to Key West where he currently lives. He started Sail Florida Adventures at age 40 after retiring from the Navy in 2013. On his website, Capt. James says he “is always pushing to learn.”

Chris Sweetin started 3D Security Training Solutions at age 41 after over 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. Sweetin received help from Boots to Business, an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration as part of the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program.

Barbara Knickerbocker Beskind trained as an occupational therapist through the U.S. Army’s War Emergency Course during World War II and served for 20 years, retiring as a major in 1966. At age 42, she founded the Princeton Center for Learning Disorders.  Beskind, now 92, works at IDEO to design products and services.

A-Sun Truth, a retired U.S. Marine, was 42 when he founded Twicketer, a mobile ticketing service that turns the average smartphone into a mobile box office or interactive coupon. In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Truth describes the connection between his military training and his entrepreneurial endeavors this way: “It’s the mind-set of knowing how to survive anything and having the willingness and gusto to go for it.”

To all the vets out there:  Thank you for your service.

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This Late-Blooming Entrepreneur Set a Record for the World’s Largest Cream Tea Party

Jane Malyon

Jane Malyon

Sometimes a chance meeting can spark a business idea.  Just ask Jane Malyon.

Malyon, who’s British, was enjoying tea one afternoon when she struck up a conversation with a stranger.

“I met an old lady who could no longer travel and whose favourite pastime was afternoon tea,” Malyon says in this Business Quarter (BQ) article. “She said to me ‘I’ve had my last afternoon tea ever’ and I thought ‘No! That can’t be!’”

That encounter five years ago led Malyon to start The English Cream Tea Company at age 55. She and her team deliver hampers (or gift baskets, as we say here in the U.S.) filled with scones, cakes, dainty sandwiches, jam and other afternoon tea treats to the doors of customers throughout the UK.

“I started The English Cream Tea Company, recognizing that it’s not always possible for everyone to travel to a great hotel, with the idea that a really super English Cream Tea could come to them instead,” she explains on her company’s website.

Tea is a lifelong passion for Malyon, who held jobs as a communications coach and a catering director before becoming an entrepreneur. As a child, she enjoyed weekend walks with her father to a local bakery to select cakes for tea. When her own two sons were growing up, she and her husband would take them to a London hotel each year to enjoy an afternoon tea.

More than 330 tea  enthusiasts gather for a record-setting cream tea party

The English Cream Tea Company’s record-setting party in 2011

Like any startup, The English Tea Company had challenges at the beginning. With a shoestring budget, Malyon gave shares of her business to her webmaster and branding designer. “When you have a team like that in place, you can start to tackle all sorts of things,” she told BQ. “From here, the business really started to gain momentum.”

Malyon launched her idea at a 2011 meeting in London of Key Person of Influence, a coaching organization whose mission is “to help our people become more visible, valuable and connected doing the things they love.”

That same year, she gained international exposure by setting a Guinness World Record for what was then the largest cream tea party in the world – 334 people.

Malyon’s current focus is on developing a selection of gifts that are suitable for retail and sending abroad.  She’s also created videos for those interested in learning about British tea etiquette.

For The English Cream Tea Company’s founder, the best thing about afternoon tea is the connectivity that comes from sharing food and drink with others. Her business is about bringing this experience to people’s homes – and about delivering gifts that let customers know that someone is thinking about them.

As Malyon puts it, “I am effectively sending out hugs to people.”

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60-Year-Old Entrepreneur’s Gaming App Makes History More Fun

History class could become a lot more interesting thanks to a new gaming app.

Avery Chenoweth, 60, and a 65-year-old partner started Here’s My Story to make history and geography come alive by combining technology with storytelling.

Here’s My Story recently joined forces with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia to deliver a mobile, location-based game that engages students and visitors in virtual role-playing.

“Historic figures, depicted in augmented reality, appear and speak to users, on their mobile devices, telling first-person stories, asking for help, and giving instructions,” explains the company’s website.

In other words, it’s sort of like John Brown meets Pokémon Go.

Chenoweth’s path to entrepreneurship hasn’t been easy. As reported in this New York Times article, the Charlottesville, Virginia resident was a novelist before a major heart attack left him too tired to write.

For a year, he worked at a car rental company to pay the bills. Then a friend told him about a business incubator at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. The incubator, known as the i.Lab, gave Chenoweth the help he needed to develop his idea.

Chenoweth, who’s now healthy, says he faced other challenges. One was the need for technology expertise to bring his idea to life.  Another was being older than most of the other incubator participants.

“As you get older, the ceiling isn’t glass,” he told the Times. “It’s concrete. Or even worse, it’s made out of wood and covered with silk.”

Here’s My Story has strong partners for the Harpers Ferry project. Among them: The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, and Jefferson County (WV) School District in addition to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Check out this video to learn more about the Here’s My Story-Harpers Ferry initiative.

 

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Why Odd Couples in Business Can Be a Good Thing

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg

This fall, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg will co-host “Martha & Snoop’s Dinner Party,” a new weekly TV show. She’s a home decorating guru. He’s a rapper. She’s 75 years old. He’s 44.

As unlikely as this duo may seem, it’s a reminder that opposites attract. Odd couples with the right chemistry can generate results that are different, creative and edgy.

If you’re exploring prospective partners for a startup, new program or another endeavor, why not widen your net and consider a few “oddballs”? Some possibilities:

People who are younger than you – Energy, tech know-how, new ideas and a youthful perspective are just some of the advantages of teaming up with someone from a younger generation.

People who are older than you – Wisdom, experience, perspective and seasoned judgment typify those in the second halves of their lives, as demonstrated by the 40-and-older entrepreneurs featured on this blog.

Competitors – Joint initiatives are possible, especially if you’re in different markets. My spouse, who owns several bicycle stores in the Washington, D.C. area, works regularly with another dealer in California. They visit each other’s stores. They exchange ideas. Each has benefited as a result.

People from other industries – This can open your imagination and expose you to ideas or ways of looking at things that you might not encounter otherwise. Proctor & Gamble had a program where it swapped employees with Google and encouraged “open innovation” with those outside the company.

Sure, oddball relationships take work. But they make life richer and more fun. What can be better than that?

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What Business Owners Can Take Away From Pokémon GO

Okay, so what’s the big deal about Pokémon GO?

You may be wondering because you’ve seen news stories. Or had groups of people milling around your business who look like they’re using their smartphones to hunt for something.

First, a quick crash course: Pokémon GO is a free mobile game app. As explained here, “it uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where you are and make Pokémon appear around you (or on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is.”

The game app has only been out a short while so there’s still a lot to learn. But here a few quick observations:

What’s old can become new again. Pokémon became super popular when it was first released in 1998. Now here it is, two decades later, and the game is again taking the world by storm. Who knows – it could come out in yet another form in another 20 years.

Persistence pays. Pokémon GO seems to have come out of nowhere but it’s been in the works for years. That seems to be the case with many “overnight sensations.”

Hype fosters creative marketing. Businesses aren’t wasting any time to leverage the increased foot traffic that’s resulted from the mobile game. Among the tactics so far:  activating “lures” that attract virtual Pokémon characters to a business location; posting about Pokémon that have been seen nearby; offering services to help players “catch ‘em all”; and providing discounts to customers who have the Pokémon GO app on their phones.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a game changer. This technology gives a live view of a real-world environment with elements that are augmented by a computer. Or to put it another way, you’re able to actually be in life and in your phone or computer’s screen at the same time. For the business owner, it’s good to be aware of this trend and keep tabs on what’s going on. No doubt it will be interesting to see how AR evolves in the future.

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Five Places to Look for Your Tribe

When I left my job six years ago, I freed myself from a daily commute that could take several hours. Today, I’m a solopreneur with a lot more control over my schedule. I rarely wear suits and often sport t-shirts and sweat pants while typing away at my computer.

But there’s a flip side to this new entrepreneurial lifestyle. After decades spent working in a traditional office environment, I now work in a home office. It’s a great arrangement — but I do miss the brainstorming sessions, feedback and social interaction with co-workers who were just down the hall.

Maybe you can relate to this experience, which seems common among those who leave the corporate world and become sole proprietors or independent contractors later in life. Working solo on a project for days or weeks (or longer) can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. That’s why it’s important to stay connected with others who can offer ideas, a different perspective or maybe a laugh when you need one.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s much easier to “find your people” than it was just a few years ago. If you’re interested in joining a new community of business owners, professionals or other like-minded individuals, here are five places to look:

1) Associations – Just about every industry has one. The key is to attend meetings and participate as an active member. Join a committee or a task force where you can work closely with others and get to know them in a smaller-group setting.

2) LinkedIn groups – These provide a place for professionals with similar interests to share content, find answers and post/review jobs. Check out this directory to browse groups in alphabetical order.

3) Facebook community pages – One example: Your Next Chapter, which describes itself as “a place for women who are stepping into their Next Chapter in business and life to connect, share, support and grow.”

4) Groups for exploring second acts – The Transition Network, AARP, 40Plus and encore.org, among others, offer conferences and other ways for members to network.

5) MeetupThis online social networking portal facilitates offline group meetings in localities around the world. Enter your city and a topic to find nearby groups who share your interest.

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How a Late Bloomer Built a Coaching Business to Help Others Like Himself

By Lynne Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams

If you’re a late bloomer who’s struggled to get traction with your business idea, here’s good news: the selection of companies and individuals providing startup coaching includes a growing number that specialize in helping older entrepreneurs.

One of them is Chicago-based Bizstarters.com, which focuses on fledgling business owners who are age 50 and older. Bizstarters program is virtual – a format that appeals to older entrepreneurs who want schedule flexibility and access to a full-range of support services from the comfort of their homes, says founder Jeff Williams.

Clients participate in weekly planning calls with a coach, who guides them through an eight-module online program that involves the completion of business planning decisions and tasks. The coach provides mentoring and assists with the development of a concept-to-product strategy (all of Bizstarters’ coaches are business owners who are at least 50 years old).

As the strategy progresses, a team of specialists provides services in fourteen key areas that range from logo design to accounting software setup. Once the business launches, clients continue to have monthly calls with their coaches for six months.

It Takes One to Know One

Williams, 67, knows the joys and challenges of being a late-blooming entrepreneur. That’s because he’s one himself.

After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and an MBA from Northwestern University, Williams entered the corporate world. “I worked as a vice president of marketing for several Fortune 500 companies and a small, family-owned company but I never felt comfortable,” he says.

By age 39, he’d had enough. He began searching for a business idea where he could channel his passion for teaching. When a friend needed assistance to buy a franchise, Williams agreed to help. He enjoyed the experience so much that, by the end, he decided to “build a business about starting a business.”

His next step was to create a curriculum, a process he knew nothing about. One day, Williams’ wife, Marianne, flagged an article about an Indiana college professor who had written a business startup curriculum to help unemployed farmers. Thinking it was a shot in the dark, Williams cold-called the professor. The two connected, which led to the professor providing Williams with the foundation he needed to develop and launch his own training course on opening a business.

Going Virtual

In 1990, Williams opened the Go Smart Entrepreneurial Center when he was 40 years old. Initially, he marketed his curriculum to colleges with adult education programs. Then the Internet’s commercial use came along – and with it, the capacity for Williams to cast a much wider net. He began publishing a series of digital workbooks and changed the company’s name to Bizstarters.com in 1998.

Another turning point occurred in 2003, when Williams received an invitation to tour what was then Northwestern University’s business incubator. “That’s when the idea of calling our coaching program Virtual Incubator™ came to mind,” he says. “It dawned on me that we were providing all the same services as a physical incubator, but at a distance and with our clients providing their own office space.”

Williams estimates that his Virtual Incubator coaching program has helped more than 600 clients start businesses in publishing, life coaching, health and plant safety consulting and the online sale of vintage musical instruments, to name a few examples. The average age of a Bizstarters client is 57 years old. Sixty percent are male and 40% are female.

Most of the aspiring boomer entrepreneurs who come to Bizstarters want a business that’s derived from a passion, says Williams.

“The first question I ask is, ‘What’s your life plan? Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?’ If someone says, ‘I don’t want to work for three months during the year’ then I say, ‘Well, that’s possible but you have to be honest about the potential effect on your earnings.’”

About a third of Williams’ clients opt for a $750 concept development process to vet the prospective business and create a business model before committing to the full Virtual Incubator program.

“Sometimes You Fail, Then You Succeed”

After more than 25 years of guiding older entrepreneurs, Williams still enjoys helping people transition from the corporate world. He has a good feel for what separates those who make it as business owners from those who don’t.

“Successful entrepreneurs are pretty clear on what problem they can solve,” he says. “They’ve determined that the problem is a major one and can do a good job in describing why their solution is superior.”  They also use independent contractors to grow their businesses and tend to stay in an industry they know.

“By the time you get to be 55 to 60, you’ve had challenges in your life – which allows you to put things in context,” says Williams. “Sometimes you fail, then you succeed.”

Note: Williams is hosting an August 4th webinar on starting a business after age 50.  Here’s a link to get info and/or register. 

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