Nancy Kessler spent much of her career as a museum curator, but she also has had a lifelong love of working with older people that dates to her childhood. At very young age, she would visit a 90-year-old neighbor who would tell her stories about her life. Kessler’s interest in oral history and folklore grew, and she eventually pursued a career in historical museums, working as a curator at the Museum of the City of New York.
But her career has been varied, and Kessler also worked for a time as a therapeutic recreation director at an independent living facility and an Alzheimer’s adult day care center. During her stint working with Alzheimer’s patients, she noticed a gap in the therapy: “There is a lot of wellness and physical therapy but not much intellectual stimulation.”
That observation led Kessler to launch her own business last year at age 58. Memoirs Plus specializes in writing memoirs for seniors; the idea is to provide her clients with intellectual stimulation and a creative activity that helps them tell their life story.
Last year, she was laid off from a position working as the personal assistant to an architect. At that point, Kessler decided to strike out on her own. She took classes at the Women’s Enterprise Development Center, a non-profit that helps women launch businesses in Westchester County north of New York City,where she lives. There, she learned how to write a business plan and research her start-up. She also launched a networking group with other businesses serving seniors in her area.
Kessler took her entrepreneurial turn equipped with a rich network of contacts accumulated over the course of her career, a graduate degree in museum studies and experience managing the finances of several non-profit organizations. She incorporated as a limited liability company and aims to build her business beyond the memoirs by forming small groups of clients who will get together for activities like museum visits or book groups.
Her network of other senior service providers is developing a suite of services. The group includes an elder law attorney, a physician, a real estate agent specializing in downsizing and an insurance agent selling Medicare and long-term insurance policies.
Kessler has no grand ambitions for the business beyond generating a satisfactory living for herself. “I always wanted to do something with seniors, and felt I had the qualities to be an entrepreneur,” she says. “I had always worked for other people and I was tired of that.”
Kessler typifies the wave of baby boomer entrepreneurship that has driven impressive start-up numbers in recent years. The boomer generation has been outpacing younger people in their rate of start-up activity. Plenty have been sole proprietorships like Kessler’s, many are full-fledged companies with start-up financing, employees and bricks and mortar. But a new report questions whether the boomer start-up wave can maintain its momentum.
Among the population aged 55-64, 0.31 percent started a business last year – and the rate among people age 45-55 was 0.36 percent, according to the latest Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Both those figures are higher than the 0.28 percent start-up rate for the total population – but the rates for older entrepreneurs are down somewhat from their peaks in 2009.