McHenry County baby boomer entrepreneurs describe experiences starting off

In November 2013, 51-year-old Mike Ammer, of Huntley, found himself feeling burned out in an industry he'd been part of for 32 years.

In the automotive industry, Ammer had been managing two different car dealerships, one in Chicago and one in Merrillville, Indiana.

"I was gone from the house 14 hours a day," he said. "I was good at what I did, and I did have a passion for it, but I felt myself losing that passion, and when that happened, I knew it was time for me to move on."

So in April 2014, he, along with his wife, set out to start their own business, a Mathnasium learning center in Crystal Lake. In the process, Ammer became part of a more widely recognized and growing group of entrepreneurs older than 50.

Baby boomers, generally people born between 1946 and 1964, are twice as likely than millennials to plan their own businesses, according to January Gallup Poll findings.

The poll, from a study of nearly 2,000 American baby boomers, observed the reasons why they tended to set out on these business endeavors at the time they did.

A majority 32 percent of the boomers said their choice circled around becoming more independent, which is an idea similar to that of Ammer's at the time of their business' launch.

"The independence was part of it," he said. "You can run a business the way you want to run it and that was definitely an attraction."

Twenty-seven percent said the pursuit of passion is what prompted their enterprises; 24 percent said the new business was aimed at bringing in new income; and 10 percent starting a venture because of an idea for a new product of service.

While success among boomer-aged people isn't necessarily a new phenomenon, entrepreneurship experts said it's still a newer trend people are starting to pay attention to.

Eric Liguori, vice president of publications for the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said it's actually quite logical to see people in that age range thrive in entrepreneurial ventures.

"[Boomers] have experience, connections, knowledge, credibility, and not just more capital than their young counterparts, but also a good understanding of risk and what their risk threshold is," he said.

At the Cary Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Brad Ball said he hasn't necessarily noticed a higher number of boomer-aged business owners.

"One thing we are seeing though is people in that age group, who already have businesses, taking new risks," Ball said. "We've seen those people try to reinvent their businesses recently."

He brought up Galati's Hideaway in Cary, the owners of which he said moved buildings and in the process redefined and expanded the business model.

In Crystal Lake, Pili Rios, 49, of Island Lake said her and her husband's endeavor expanded last year when they launched their brick-and-mortar catering/cooking class business. She said their age was a factor in deciding it was the right time to pursue their shared passion for food and teaching. Confetti Gourmet Academy and Catering opened in September in Lakewood.

"It was just a good time for us since we were a little older," Rios said. "Our kids are grown up, when we were younger we didn't have the resources for something like this, and now we're not so much focused on planning for the future. We're just doing it to give back."

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