This week, I became aware of a very unique contest held in Pittsburgh that recently concluded. The Experienced Dreamers contest was born out of a survey taken by residents in 2009 that indicated that the city must rely on young residents to drive growth. The recommendation of the survey team was that, if the city could attract 1250 entrepreneurs who are 45 and over to move to the area and start a business, the economic impact over the next two decades would be $2.5 BILLION!
Here were the rules:
- The applicant must be 45 or older as of the date of application,
- The applicant may not have lived with 100 miles of the city for the past 10 years, and
- The applicant must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident as of the application date.
The applicants were charged with locating a new business, philanthropy, or artistic endeavor in Pittsburgh upon award of $50,000 in cash and an additional $50,000 in charitable trust in the recipient’s name. This year’s winner is Tess Almendarez Lojacono, a 55-year-old artist who has been living in East Aurora, NY. Her proposal was to move and enlarge Fine Art Miracles, a five-year-old company she started that teaches fine art classes to residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Lojacono has a stated objective to provide intellectual stimulation for older people and to help them tap their creativity.
In her own words, “I like to show people that they’re still able to create.” “We’re offering something a little more intellectually challenging for them than painting between the lines, and a lot of them really like that. We have older gentlemen who sign up for our classes who wouldn’t do crafts.”
An article at http://www.SecondAct.com told a little more of her story:
She incorporates art history and a lot of visual aids into her classes. After showing participants reproductions of Georgia O’Keefe’s floral portraits, for example, she invites them to create their own versions on black art paper. She’ll provide as little or as much assistance as her students need.
“We find that even people in their eighties and nineties are interested in learning something new,” Lojacono says. “I’ve developed a lot of respect for their intellects.”
Part of her job is helping people who haven’t previously tried making art to get over their perception that it’s an activity only for a creative elite. “They’ll say, I can’t draw a line with a ruler,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘that’s great. I don’t want any straight lines in here.’ We start with a blank sheet of paper. What I find, though, is that when I help them to draw, pretty soon they’re sitting up straight and smiling.”
The amazing thing that occurs to me is “why aren’t more cities doing this?” Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live, is a top-rated city and part of the Research Triangle Park region, known to be a hotbed of entrepreneurship, but with little emphasis on attracting “boomerpreneurs.” Clearly, experience counts in running a business. Older start-up founders are seemingly more likely to have more capital than their younger counterparts. Since under-capitalization is the bane of many new businesses, an effort to attract entrepreneurs with greater net worth would make good sense as part of an economic development strategy.
Innovate Raleigh has identified a number of initiatives to foster greater cross-institutional cooperation for the betterment of the local economy. While we need to continue to foster business start-ups coming out of the education of our young students, we should also have a strategy for the bigger demographic of “Experienced Dreamers!”