Dhaka, Bangladesh
'I took a deep breath and jumped'

Meet the women launching startups in their 50s:

'I took a deep breath and jumped'

While it's true that self-employment has been rising swiftly in the last decade, few would have predicted that the biggest trend in new startups would be the over-55s. According to the Office for National Statistics, these "oldpreneurs" (a dubious name) make up a fifth of Britain's new business owners. Last week, Barclays bank reported a 67% increase in women over 55 opening business accounts in the last decade; for those aged 65 and older, the number is up 132%, the biggest rise of any demographic. Even the entrepreneur Liz Earle, who the bank has brought in to advise its new customers, was taken aback by the statistics: "To be honest I was surprised: I've done a lot of mentoring over the years, always focused on younger people. I suppose I was falling into that trap of being ageist, thinking that startups were for the young." There are many reasons why a woman in her 50s might choose to forge a new career path. As our life expectancy rises, says Earle, "there is a whole third life that people look forward to: it's not just about sitting under a tree in the sun, it's about staying active and keeping the brain stimulated. One way to do that is to keep working. And there is a financial imperative to make sure the future is secure as you live longer." Plus, these women tend to be very good at it, Earle says: "I will probably get shut down for saying this, but 50-plus women are often more agile and more adept at multitasking, because that's what we have had to do over the last decades of our lives, juggling caring for older relatives with bringing up younger children. Home and work. It makes you nimble in your mindset. Nothing can replace experience, knowledge and wisdom, and you can't buy them or study for them at university." 'I had massive concerns about my age … but without all my experience, I would have really struggled.' Karen Stubbings at The Wood Pile Earle, whose beauty company was sold to Avon in 2010, is now heading a startup all over again. In her 50s, she has launched Liz Earle Wellbeing, a quarterly natural health and beauty magazine. "You get a real sense of satisfaction through creating a business that is enjoyed by others," she says. "It's liberating." More than 20 years ago, Oloyede worked as a seamstress in a wedding shop, before working as a secondary school teacher of art and textiles. "With the demands of having children, I got sucked into the rigmarole of the nine-to-five and the guaranteed salary. But I always had that itch to run my own business - I just didn't know how or when." A room in her house slowly filled with material, needles and cotton, as she waited for the right moment. The opportunity came when the school asked Oloyede to teach other subjects: instead, she decided to leave. Just before her 50th birthday, she used about £2,000 of savings to launch the Sew London Project, where she upcycles old textiles and turns them into new clothes and accessories under the brand recyclothes.com, as well as running sewing courses. Oloyede gets to the studio at about 9am and leaves by 8pm - she used to have a sewing machine at home, but brought it to the studio as she was sewing into the early hours: "I have to stop myself from working because I love what I do," she says. With so many commissions coming in via word of mouth, she hopes to hire a part-time machinist. After struggling to master social media, she has offered a former student a skills exchange: "She said: 'Miss, we need to hook you up on Snapchat!' So I said: 'You set me up and make a buzz about me, and I'll teach you sewing technique.'" Nearly two years in, she is able to cover costs and make a profit: "Though I would like it to be more!" she says. "I thought this would happen when I was much younger, but now my kids are older, and I'm in a really good place head-wise and emotion-wise - and I'm at peace with myself." After 13 years as a regional manager for a national charity, Stubbings took redundancy. Despite her experience, without a degree she struggled to find another job, so, with encouragement from her husband and two sons, she started her own business. Stubbings's older son, Daniel, 29, a sports coordinator, has cerebral palsy, and this was her driving force. She says: "I knew how much my son had struggled to find work, and I had seen how cutbacks in government funding for services mean there is very little out there to help people." She opened The Wood Pile in July 2014, with £8,000 from her redundancy pay and £35,000 in grants, to help people with disabilities into employment by giving them practical work experience. Stubbings buys waste wood and old furniture (some is donated), and the clients with disabilities and a team of 25 volunteers upcycle and sell it, while two part-time employees work on admin and marketing. She also runs courses for the local community. Turnover was £76,000 in this, their third year, and, other than wages, all profits are ploughed back into the business. Stubbings says: "I had massive concerns about my age - I never expected that, at 51, I would be humping and lumping wood into the back of the van - but without all my experience, I would have really struggled. I knew people I could ask for advice, and spent my career writing tenders for grants and setting up projects." Apart from acting as the HR, IT and finance departments in addition to running the business, the most difficult thing for Stubbings is funding: "It's not knowing whether you will or you won't be here in six months' time." She has little time for life outside The Wood Pile: "Some days are very long; others I can get away with 11 hours," she says. But it's worth it. "When people who came here stop by and have now found a job, that's absolutely brilliant." When Wright was on her way to work earlier this year, she noticed a shop with a notice in the window that read: "Business for sale." It set her heart racing: "When I was a small child, I used to play at keeping a shop. My mum would save me empty tins, I would set up a little counter and sell to anyone who wanted to play with me," she says. With her background in retail and business development in the charity sector, Wright was drawn to the ethos of the shop, called Eco Republic, which sells ethical gifts, homewares and electric bikes, and decided to meet the owners for coffee. "I did my research, got all the facts and figures from the owners, and put a business plan together. I was confident that I would be able to make a profit," she says. "I thought, I'm 58, do I really want to carry on working for somebody else and sit out my time, or be courageous? I took a deep breath and jumped off the cliff." With £15,000 in savings and a business loan of £20,000, she bought the shop, and opened the doors in June. With one part-time staff member, she works five days a week, 10am to 5pm, doing paperwork in her spare time, and pays herself a subsistence salary. She hopes to make a small profit by the end of this year and build from there. "I'm sure people think that your late 50s is the time to start thinking about retirement, but frankly that's the last thing on my mind. I'm excited to come to work every morning."

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