Sunday, 3 April 2011

Age Unlimited Scotland

We always like to emphasis the opportunities for older people in setting up their own businesses. They tend to fail less often than those set up by the under 50's. Whether this be what G'ment sources rather patronisingly call 'lifestyle businesses' which usually involve one person pursuing an interest for profit or setting up a business with the potential for growth and employing others - the opportunities are there.

The Scottish operation explores ways to help people in their 50s and 60s to become social entrepreneurs. As such they can play a central role in the design and delivery of innovative new services, which improve their local communities. And they can continue playing an active role in society.
The NESTA funded agency supported 15 new ventures including Mamie Donald, who at 73 is a self-professed video games addict. Mamie spotted an opportunity to provide video gaming workshops for older people, introducing them to the benefits of IT and online social networks, thus reducing social isolation in the very old. Another older convert has just bought himself an iPad so that he can read the digital edition of his newspapers at 5am each day.
The programme takes a different approach to traditional enterprise support which focuses solely on the idea the would-be social entrepreneur puts forward and often uses off-putting business terminology. Instead, they develop the idea and the individual simultaneously through group workshops which offer personal development training as well as practical advice about how to make their idea a reality.
They give participants practical skills to challenge and improve the quality of their venture idea, to help make it feasible and sustainable. Through peer sessions with like-minded individuals the programme raises confidence and builds ambition levels, which in turn drives the idea forward.
This year they are introducing mentoring into the programme – training more established social entrepreneurs in mentoring techniques and then pairing them with the new 'older entrepreneurs'.

From the start of the programme they encourage ventures to think about commercial style business models rather than relying on public sector funding. This forces participants to think about long term sustainability early on.
Through Age Unlimited Scotland, NESTA has reached people who wouldn't see themselves as social entrepreneurs; many doubted their own abilities and wouldn't normally have put themselves forward for this opportunity – they are modest and just had "a bit of an idea". Participants describe the programme as a worthwhile but emotional journey, fast-paced and a huge learning curve. NESTA is learning a lot too. Supporting new older entrepreneurs is time intensive - start-up challenges can seem like huge barriers and many like ongoing reassurance that their idea is credible and a worthy investment of their time.

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