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Boomer entrepreneurs find help from a nonprofit in getting their ventures up and running

Photo Credit: PHOTO: JIM CLARK/PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Michele Young of Lake Oswego and her husband, Gary, have invented a new product and are getting business help from the nonprofit MIPO.

Michele and Gary Young aren’t business newbies. Gary, with his background in architecture and construction, ran his own design/build business, while Michele owned a lighting store in downtown Portland, taught startup business classes and worked at Nike as global operations manager.

But the Youngs, who live in Lake Oswego, entered a new phase of entrepreneurship when they invented a product they sought to produce and sell. Gary, 63, and Michele, 60, have spent the past two years doing consulting work while trying to get their invention off the ground, and now they have a provisional patent.

“We’re about six months away from getting the patent,” says Michele, who can’t yet talk about their invention, except to say it’s technology that has to do with developing sustainable energy.

Michele thinks she and her husband couldn’t have done it without the help they received from a nonprofit organization called MIPO — Micro Inventors Program of Oregon — which provides resources, training and advice on inventing, designing and marketing products and services.

“It pulls together all these resources for you — mentors, consultants,” says Michele, who has taken MIPO workshops and has signed up for another one, created specifically for baby boomer entrepreneurs, that starts Sept. 16.

Established in 2006, MIPO helps not only inventors but all sorts of small businesses that have innovative ideas, says Kedma S. Ough, the organization’s executive director. She also directs MIPO’s sister organization, Avita & Associates, which serves women, minorities and entrepreneurs with disabilities.

“There are more than enough accountants in the world — we don’t need another one, but we do need those who can solve a problem,” Ough says.

“Many clients struggle with trying to get through the patent process without going bankrupt,” she adds. “It can be very costly if you don’t know how to get through it.”

The workshop for boomer entrepreneurs is a new program offered in partnership with AARP. Boomers appear to be an enterprising generation: Since 1996, Americans age 50 to 64 have shown a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those ages 20 to 34, according to “The Coming Entrepreneurship Boom,” a 2009 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Boomers may start businesses because they’re not ready or able to retire, Ough says. “What they’re starting to do is reinvent themselves.”

The boomer workshop, she adds, aims to help participants “think about how they can use their experience to create a company out of it — what skills do I have, why should I be considered an entrepreneur?”

Some of the hottest startup businesses are virtual assistants, “a glorified administrative assistant that works through the Internet to provide valuable services — answering phone calls, review documents,” Ough says. “You’re essentially a contractor, a perfect home-based business. Those are the kinds of things we look at — you just have to reinvent what you have.”

Speaking of inventions, Michele Young was glad she and her husband had MIPO on their side.

“The exciting thing was we had this idea, and sometimes to me it can be intimidating — you put yourself out there and everyone’s looking at you,” Michele says. “We’re starting over, we have to figure out how to market our product.”

Boomer entrepreneurs also need to consider the future in a different way, she adds. “What’s my personal vision? Do I want to do this in five years, 10 years? It’s not like when you’re 25 and you have decades ahead of you. Instead, you’re developing a five-year or 10-year plan.

“In our previous businesses it hadn’t occurred to us to have an exit strategy when we left them. We didn’t have a plan, and we realize it’s really important to have one.”

Have a business idea?

What: FastTrac for the Boomer Entrepreneur, a workshop presented by MIPO and Avita & Associates for baby boomers who have an idea for a business but need a plan to successfully start a company.

When: Sept. 16 to Nov. 18.

Where: MIPO/Avita and Associates, 5257 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite, 201, Portland.

Cost: $200.

Phone: Call Jeannet Santiago, 503-998-9560.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Websites: Learn more about MIPO at www.mipooregon.org. For more about Avita, MIPO’s sister organization, visit avitabiz.com.