‘Second-act’ entrepreneurship among boomers, Gen X on the rise post-pandemic

Ohio set records for new business creation in 2019, 2020, and 2021, though slowed in first half of 2022

James Williams and his brother-in-law Patrick Howard bought the building that would become Southern Ohio Brewing the Friday before the Memorial Day tornadoes ripped through Beavercreek. That wasn’t the only hurdle they would face.

“We had tornadoes, we had floods, we had a pandemic. We’re starting to wonder if it’s all stacked against you somehow,” Williams said. “It’s just weird how everything just continued to work out.”

Like so many other Dayton-area entrepreneurs, Williams and Howard made it work and the brewery is thriving in its third year.

More and more Americans are taking the leap and choosing to become business owners, particularly among baby boomers and Gen-Xers, though the rate of new business creation has slowed in the first half of 2022.

Ohioans set a record number of business filings in 2019, 2020, and 2021. There were 171,073 new business filings in 2020, up from 130,621 in 2019. Ohio smashed its record again in 2021 at 197,010, a 15% increase, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

However, 2022 filings are down when compared month-to-month, as inflation and labor shortages wreak havoc on the business world. This August saw a slight uptick with 15,815 new business filings from the 6-month low in July. While this shows a 2.7% increase from August 2021, new business creation overall is still down 13% from the same point last year, per data from the Ohio Secretary of State.

Economic downturn can be a catalyst for new businesses, said Dawn Brown, president of InSource Consulting, as workers who lose their jobs see an opportunity to shift gears and be their own boss.

“I saw more businesses pop up during and after the recession of 2008-2009 than I do now,” Brown said. “I don’t think we’ve actually seen the full impact of what’s been going on, because if the economy continues to decline a little, you may see more people being laid off, or people scaling back as the economy is not recovering. And then you may see more entrepreneurs pop up.”

A 2021 study by the Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship looked at the rate of entrepreneurship — the percent of adults becoming entrepreneurs in a given month — by age cohort. It found that the rate of new entrepreneurs was highest among people aged 45–54 at 0.44%, while the rate was lowest among the 20–34 year age group at 0.27%. However, all age groups have higher rates of entrepreneurship than pre-COVID pandemic levels.

Williams and Howard adjusted after the tornadoes touched down just a few miles away from the brewery, located at 818 Factory Road. Over the course of the next year, Southern Ohio Brewing would miss catastrophes by inches: floodwaters came within a foot of overflowing into the building. Renovation plans were approved by the county the same day Ohio shut down in response to COVID-19. Brewing equipment showed up at their door the week international supply chains stopped.

But since Southern Ohio Brewing opened its doors on July 4, 2020, it has capitalized on its acre-and-a-half of outdoor space next to Beavercreek’s network of bike trails, where people have come to be outside, play games, and enjoy a wide range of craft beers, wine and hard seltzer, all made in-house.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

ExploreBaby Boomers driven to retirement by COVID-19 return to work amid labor shortage and high inflation

“People were rolling wagons, tents and games in during COVID, and they would pod up in their small groups. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting — with beer,” Williams joked. “Families having family quality time.”

Williams, 54, is freshly retired from teaching health classes at Fairborn High School for over 30 years, also serving as the school’s athletic trainer there during that time. He is among a growing cohort of Americans around 50 years of age who are starting their own businesses, and who — by certain metrics — are likely to be more successful.

John Matecki, who owns and operates Whiskermen Grooming Company with his wife, Jennifer, was laid off from his previous job in November 2021. Prior to that, he had served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, and in late 2021, Matecki found himself scrolling through job applications on Indeed.

“I kept thinking, ‘There’s got to be something more,’” Matecki said. “I want to set my own schedule. I want to be in control of my own destiny. All of that kept pointing back to starting my own business.”

ExploreAir Force 75th anniversary: See how Wright-Patterson played pivotal role

The Mateckis purchased Whiskermen from its previous owners in 2017, rebranded it, and relaunched the business on Jan. 1 of this year, with a wide array of new beard oils, kits, bath bombs, soaps, lip balms and more. Whiskermen has a rotating and seasonal stock of scents, and is hosting a beard contest with Warped Wing Brewery in Dayton on Sept. 30.

“We are in a free country where whatever you want, you can go out and get it. The only hindrance is you,” Matecki said. “You’ve got to be willing to put the hours in and get on the grind.”

Older entrepreneurs tend to be concentrated in manufacturing (including retail and handmade goods), B2B consulting, travel and hospitality, and the food and beverage industries, including restaurants, said Felicia Brown, a senior advisor on financial resilience with AARP.

ExploreLongtime Centerville craft, clothing boutique expands into new, larger space

Second-act entrepreneurs do face challenges, such as navigating 401(k) plans and other financial repercussions when leaving a job to start a business. Older businesspeople also have a stronger focus on an exit strategy, such as transitioning into a consultative role, or having a goal to sell, Brown said. Older entrepreneurs may also simply lack the confidence to strike out on their own.

“For older people who are retired, they have so much wealth of experience that they could easily turn that into revenue generating projects. But they don’t know that they can actually do that,” said Chataun Denis, a grant writer and small business coach. “We all have a skill, but there’s somebody who needs it, and somebody will pay us to do it.”

Despite these challenges, researchers at MIT and the National Bureau of Economic Research found in 2019 that startups by older founders were more likely to be successful, compared to those in younger generations, flying in the face of common wisdom, particularly in Big Tech. Upon starting a firm, a 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder.

“Looking at 20-somethings that are just starting up, their life experiences are not really there, but their eagerness is there. So that can balance out,” Matecki said. “And being younger, social media is powerful tool. Moving into the older generation, the new technology may be something that they’re not comfortable with, and can adapt to, but the upside is they’ve got all this life experience.”

For entrepreneurs of any age looking to start a new business, Dayton has a strong system of organizations and resources, Matecki said.

“There’s so many resources out there that help. Using the Entrepreneur’s Center is a great resource, using the Small Business Development Center is a good resource. There’s so many resources that people don’t realize are available to them,” he said.

About the Author