By Sam Boykin
CHARLOTTE — After almost 12 years working as an interior designer for an architectural firm, Carolyn Cook was unexpectedly laid off last year. “It was a total surprise,” she said. “I was a senior associate and just didn’t see it coming.” Once she got over the initial shock, Cook took a hard look at her career options, as well as the discouraging job market — and decided that rather than try to land another corporate gig, she’d strike out on her own.
Last summer, she launched LiveSmart Design, which specializes in residential development that’s environmentally friendly and caters to the elderly. “This wasn’t something I really wanted to do, but it was my only solution other than falling off the face of the earth. And now I really like it.”
Cook, 58, is indicative of a growing trend in which “older” people are tapping into their inner entrepreneur and starting their own businesses. According to a new study by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), entrepreneurial activity among Americans ages 44 to 99 rose nearly 8 percent in 2008. The GEM is a non-profit national academic research consortium, and its findings seem to be reflected in Charlotte.
Ken Paulus, assistant director for business and entrepreneurial development at UNC-Charlotte, said he’s seen a number of older applicants in Five Ventures, an annual business plan competition hosted by the Charlotte Research Institute. He attributes the trend to the fact that large employers continue to shed jobs and offer buyout packages to avoid their pension obligations.
“What you see is 40-to-50-year-olds with a wealth of experience and contacts on the street with $100-to-$250 grand in their pocket. It’s not enough to retire and too young to collect Social Security, so they start their own business.”
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