Mary Cervantes

Mary Cervantes is a columnist for the Napa Valley Register.

J.L. Sousa/Register

How old is too old to be an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurship isn’t just for 20- or 30-somethings.

In fact, in 2012, approximately a quarter of those starting businesses were 50 and older.

This summer, the U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP are renewing their “Summer of Encore Mentoring” educational events targeting entrepreneurs over the age of 50, who want to start or grow their small business.

The SBA developed a 50-plus toolkit, at sba.gov/encore, that includes an online self-assessment and other free online courses. Additional training courses can be found at aarp.org/startabusiness.

This joint partnership began in 2012, and has educated and trained more than 475,000 existing and up-and-coming encore entrepreneurs.

Surveys have shown that 63 percent of Americans plan to keep working during retirement. For many, small business ownership is a good option.

More workers age 50-plus are turning interests, hobbies or skills into a small business.

One example is Napa resident and log-spinner Bob Saxby.

Not too long ago, Bob was a part-time woodturner and a full-time college instructor living and working in the Napa Valley.

For seven years, Bob has been turning out bowls, centerpieces, wine bottle stoppers and peppermills spun out of wood from native California trees. He sells his creations at local art exhibitions and holiday fairs.

Upon learning he needed a city of Napa business license, Bob decided to turn his hobby into a small business. Now semi-retired, Bob is able to expand opportunities to showcase his artwork.

“In the Spring of 2011, I stopped by the SBDC office with a question about a Napa business license. The office manager confirmed I needed the license and I also needed many of the SBDC services. So I ended up taking classes in business start-up, record-keeping, social media, arts entrepreneurship... and I also availed myself of individual professional advising services,” said Saxby.

“Now five years later, I am a part of the Art Association of Napa Valley and their gallery on First Street. To think it all began with a simple question and a helpful response!”

Small business owners with a long-term business adviser see an increase in sales and keep their doors open longer.

For the over-50 entrepreneur, the Small Business Development Center is the place for business training and comprehensive support from certified business advisers. Most of the Business Advisors are over 50 years old and entrepreneurs themselves.

“One of the challenges today is keeping current with technology. As an older entrepreneur, I didn’t grow up with computers, software, the Internet, and social media,” said Jerry Jinnett, local encore entrepreneur and SBDC Business Advisor.

“I have found that taking advantage of educational and training opportunities can help. The Napa-Sonoma SBDC offers workshops covering social media, marketing on the web, and financial software programs such as Quickbooks.”

At Napa Valley College, the Small Business Development Center offers free one-on-one advising and low-cost trainings to businesses in all stages of development. Go to napasonomasbdc.org to request services or call (707) 256-7250 for an appointment.

Mary Cervantes is the business services director for Napa Valley College Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center. Reach her at 256-7253 or mcervantes@napavalley.edu.

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