This Bootcamp Helps Retired Seniors Launch New Businesses

Pramilla Ramdahani’s business bootcamp, SPICE, is giving seniors a new lease on life.

Tom Gibson and Pramilla RamdahaniPHOTO: JAIME HOGGE

Senior moment

When Tom Gibson retired from his job as a business consultant, he was looking forward to a little downtime. But the 65-year-old soon realized that, for him, there was such a thing as too much relaxation. “I found out through retirement that I was not the retiring type,” he says. “I wanted to—and actually needed to—stay busy.”

Initially, he thought he’d stave off boredom by volunteering at Community Innovation Lab, an Oshawa, Ont., not-for-profit that supports budding entrepreneurs. Instead, he ended up getting support to build a new family business thanks to the lab’s latest pilot project: the Seniorpreneur Program 4 Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (SPICE). Founded by community organizer Pramilla Ramdahani last year, it helps the growing number of people aged 55 or older who want to start their own businesses.

According to a 2015 Statistics Canada report, one in five Canadians aged 65 and older reported working at some point during the year. For some, this is a matter of financial necessity—we’re living longer, which means our retirement savings and pensions have to go much further. Other seniors, like Gibson, are continuing to work or opting to re-enter the workforce because they want mental and social stimulation. “SPICE provides an opportunity for them to use the wisdom, knowledge and passions they have been sitting on,” Ramdahani says.

In its first year, SPICE hosted three “boot camps” for cohorts of 20 seniors each. The groups met to build a business plan and connect with professionals, like accountants and marketers, who had small-business expertise.

Some of the seniors who participated came with only an idea for professional services, such as financial planning or workplace wellness, or for products, like all-natural undergarments or stylish cycling gear. Others, like Gibson, were further along in the process. He and his sons were already working on a company, Havlar, that sells mobile safes in which to store valuables, like cellphones and wallets. (The idea came from Gibson’s son Daryl whose hockey bag was stolen while he was on the ice.)

“I had a very solid business plan to work from and make better,” Gibson says. “But you also got feedback from other people in the class on how you could do things differently or think about things that maybe you hadn’t. And the networking part of it was also helpful.”

Ramdahani is currently trying to secure funding to offer more boot camps in the future. And she’s hoping SPICE can expand beyond Durham Region. In the meantime, though, Community Innovation Lab is continuing to offer support to entrepreneurial seniors, whether it’s through one-off workshops or even just by offering a place to hold meetings.

Gibson’s Havlar has entered its next phase: crowdfunding its manufacturing process so its safes can start being sold later this year. He’s pleased at what he and his sons have been able to do so far—and hopeful about what comes next. “How sweet was it that I could actually commit my time and energy to build something with my family that is hopefully enduring? Maybe even create a legacy? I didn’t want to miss an opportunity, however late in life, to make this kind of contribution.”

Next, find out how one Toronto woman is helping others pull themselves out of poverty.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada