The boss in the mirror

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After hitting the mid-century mark, legions of East Siders, West Siders, downtowners, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen residents are mustering the courage, and cash, to go into business for themselves


  • “Willing and ready learners”: social media event at the Senior Planet Exploration Center in Chelsea. Photo: Ashad Hajela

“Ask most New Yorkers to picture an entrepreneur, and they imagine a 20- or 30-something in jeans and sneakers. But the face of entrepreneurship across New York City is changing.”

Center for an Urban Future report

The Upper West Side boasts more entrepreneurs among the over-50 set than any other neighborhood in the city — and the Upper East Side is a close second, a new research report found.

But when it comes to becoming one’s own boss at the age of 60 and up, the UES takes the lead — and the UWS trails ever so slightly, according to data from the Center for an Urban Future.

The boomer generation is reinventing the workplace. The phenomenon is called “encore entrepreneurship.” And its growth, from the Battery to central Harlem has been turbo-charged, the think tank determined.

In the past decade, the ranks of self-employed Manhattan residents 50 and over soared 19 percent, to 72,996 from 61,159, researchers found, while those aged 60-plus shot up 32 percent, to 41,190 from 31,152.

Bottom line: Nearly one out of every three borough residents north of five decades, or 30.3 percent, is now working for themselves, and the self-employment rate downtown stands at 40 percent, the data shows.

Fueling the surge in business activity among 50-, 60- and 70-somethings is the graying of the city’s population — the 50-plus census has leaped over 10 percent since 2010 — along with ever-increasing lifespans and the accompanying need for older New Yorkers to develop new income streams.

Other factors include the lingering fallout from the layoffs of the Great Recession, the tough odds seniors face in the job market, persistent age discrimination in the workplace, the rise of the gig economy, the fall of both start-up costs and barriers to entry due to advances in technology — and even the relative ease of setting up limited liability companies.

“Folks in their 50s and 60s who’ve spent 30-plus years in larger companies are now leveraging their professional experience in the workforce,” said Eli Dvorkin, managing editor of the research institute. “They’ve got a lot to offer. And they’re trying to go it alone.”

Many first-time business builders reinvent themselves as independent consultants or freelancers, deploying the intimate knowledge of their industries they developed as employees to provide similar services to customers, he said.

But others venture into largely unchartered waters, Dvorkin said. Like the ex-corporate lawyer who created an LLC for a nutritional dog-treat venture, Kalo Karma. Or the former advertising executive who started a food-manufacturing business and produces vegan tempeh, an artisanal meat substitute consisting of organic grains and fermented beans.

“Many encore entrepreneurs are not getting traditional bank financing for their businesses – so they’re bootstrapping companies, forming LLCs, getting business cards printed, putting up their own money, and in really large numbers, they’re setting out on their own,” Dvorkin added.


Some are utilizing platforms like Upwork, UrbanSitter, TaskRabbit, Uber and Etsy, the report says. Others open brick-and-mortar restaurants or clothing shops. Some sell crafts or cosmetics online. Others run home-based day care businesses. Or work as caterers or speech therapists.

The wave of business creation is still in its infancy. But the Center for an Urban Future’s report — “Starting Later: Realizing the Promise of Older Entrepreneurs in New York” — posits that city demographics capture the “ideal conditions” for the boom to intensify:

As of 2016, there were roughly 2.2 million New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 74, comprising almost 26 percent of the populace. Aging adults will continue to spark the bulk of city population growth because by 2030, projections show, nearly one in three residents will be over 50.

“Ask most New Yorkers to picture an entrepreneur, and they imagine a 20- or 30-something in jeans and sneakers,” the report begins.

“But the face of entrepreneurship across New York City is changing,” it adds. “A growing number of older adults are quietly but purposefully turning to entrepreneurship for the first time.”

After spending the better part of a lifetime in the workforce, a new breed of bosses is emerging. The public-policy shop has compiled a breakdown by neighborhood, based on an analysis of census data, labor reports and demographic and workplace studies.

Adopting a broad definition of entrepreneurship, the center’s study includes both self-employment and business ownership among the city’s older population. Among its findings, based on 2016 data:

• There are 17,094 Upper West Siders above the half-century mark who work for themselves — or a lofty self-employment rate of 39 percent.

• On the other side of Central Park, there are 14,621 Upper East Siders aged 50 or above who make their own payrolls, a self-employment rate of 32 percent out of 45,177 people in the same age bracket.

• In Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca and the Financial District, 10,258 residents aged 50 or older work for themselves, out of a tally of 25,433. That means lower Manhattan posts a 40 percent self-employment rate, the city’s highest.

• And in midtown, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, the 50-and-up workforce numbers 24,495, of whom 7,748, or 32 percent, are self-employed.

“While few believe they are building million-dollar businesses, these 50-plus founders take what might seem at their age to be a perilous leap into the unknown, often risking their savings to bankroll a dream,” the authors wrote.

“They bring know-how and experience to the task, and often have innovative ideas about how to do things better ... among other things, they are willing and ready learners.”

The report quotes Lendynette Pacheco-Jorge, assistant director of the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Iona College: “They know what they don’t know.”

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