Training older entrepreneurs to thrive in today’s tech world

sometimes you can Teaching an old dog new tricks.

Small businesses owned by people over 50 in San Francisco generate 44% more revenue in their first year than those owned by people under 35, according to an analysis by JPMorgan Chase. However, many older entrepreneurs fail initially because they are not armed with the right technical skills.

A pilot program called Kickstart Your Business at 50+ aims to change that. The program will train two low-income groups of 20 people over the age of 50 in the skills they need to start a new business, such as how to use online payment platforms and manage a website. Each group will receive 10 weeks of training, with three live interactive classes per week. The first training session begins on January 10, while the second session begins on April 11.

“There are many entrepreneurship programs out there, but none that really focus on low-income, 50-plus people,” Andrew Broderick says. He and Karla Somala are co-directors of the SF Tech Council Project, a multisectoral collaboration driving the pilot. They believe that giving older entrepreneurs the technical skills to start new businesses will not only drive jobs, but also generate more local jobs. “This is a path to economic security,” Broderick says.

Kickstart Your Business at 50+ was funded by the city’s Office of Economic Development and Workforce, through a program announced in September that committed a record $42 million to workforce training programs to aid in the pandemic economic recovery. Due to city funding, the program is free and will award a minimum of $150 to each student who completes the program.

The curriculum was initially designed by private one-year-old company Blissen, which had already established a coaching program for older entrepreneurs but was not tailored to a particular geographic area or income level. However, if the program proves successful, Solen Udette, CEO and founder of Blissen, hopes the city will fund larger sessions in the future. “There is a huge opportunity to expand this program, with a focus on low-income populations, and I am very excited about the service,” she says.

In order to target this population, the SF Tech Council works with the Bureau of Economic Development and Workforce, SF public libraries, and nonprofit organizations in their network that work specifically with seniors from San Franciscans. There are no strict quotas for the number of approved low-income participants, although Broderick and Suomala say they will be given priority when choosing between applicants, as each is required to complete a short application and interview.

But training low-income and older populations comes with challenges. That’s because people with low and middle incomes are less likely to get the time for a 10-week boot camp. One would need to work four full-time minimum wage jobs in San Francisco to afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment, according to an analysis by the National Coalition on Low-Income Housing.

Additionally, according to the 2018 Digital Divide Survey run by The City, people over 65 are 26% less likely than the rest of the population to have high-speed internet at home. To avoid these drawbacks, the SF Tech Council says they have excluded applicants who may not have the necessary time during the interview process. However, they will work with motivated applicants to ensure that they have access to the necessary hardware.

There are other obstacles, too. The program’s technology coach, Vicki Sol, who has experience training seniors through online top education platform GetSetUp, says residents are likely to have concerns about learning technical skills. She says classes need to follow in bite-sized portions, and host a supportive, community-centered environment. The program recruited an ethnically diverse group of teachers, many of whom were over 50, so that students could feel included and comfortable.

But Sol says these demographics have distinct advantages in starting their own businesses, too. “They’ve worked for years, and they know what they like and don’t like,” she says. “They already have a desire, a hunger, to succeed and start something new for themselves.”

virwin@sfexaminer.com

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