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Encore Entrepreneurs: Empty-nest boomers driving small business economy

RBC poll shows that boomers are driving the small business economy while millennials are looking to expand it

TORONTO, September 18, 2019 - 

Boomers – specifically empty-nesters – are leading the way when it comes to entrepreneurship, challenging the traditional notion of 'sliding into retirement'. Nearly half (42 per cent) of small business owners are boomers compared with 24 per cent who are millennials. Among Canadians who have thought about starting a business, empty nesters are the most likely (46 per cent) to actually have started or purchased one, according to the 2019 RBC Small Business poll.

What's their motivation? Half of boomers (49 per cent) who have started or are thinking of starting a business say they want to continue using their rich experience to supplement their retirement income. Meanwhile 41 per cent of empty nesters among boomers say that the catalyst was or will be their children being out of the home.

"The future looks bright for the Canadian economy, which is predominantly driven by small businesses," said Lori Darlington, Vice-President of Small Business and Strategic Partnerships, RBC. "Canadian boomers are incredibly entrepreneurial. Many are turning passion projects into new ventures and leveraging their extensive experience to fuel today's small business economy. At the same time, their spirit and leadership is inspiring the next generation of aspiring millennial entrepreneurs to build on the momentum."

Millennials will carry the torch
While the small business economy is currently driven by boomers, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well among the younger generations. In fact, 70 per cent of millennials have thought about owning a business – an increase of seven points from 2018 – and 53 per cent of millennial non-business owners are currently participating in the side gig economy.

When it comes to their motivations, millennials are more likely than other groups to say that they would start a business to:

  • have control over their career (92 per cent);
  • do something that aligns with their personal values (89 per cent); and
  • bring something new and exciting to the market (85 per cent).

With more time on their horizon, millennials are also more likely than any other age group to say they want to create something that they can pass down to their children; nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) agreed, compared with 44 per cent of the general population. Meanwhile, only 34 per cent of empty nesters cited this as a motivation for entrepreneurship, suggesting a desire to do something personally meaningful with their time.

Aspiring entrepreneurs seeking more preparedness and stability before taking the leap
While the number of Canadians who are considering business ownership is on the rise compared to last year (57% 2019 vs. 54% 2018), aspiring entrepreneurs are showing more caution and preparation before taking the leap. Their response indicated a much more pragmatic approach to starting a business with 68 per cent of aspiring entrepreneurs saying research was the most important step in getting started. Current business owners, however, say that reaching out to potential clients was the number one thing they did to get their business off the ground.

Preparing to start a business

Business Owners

Aspiring Entrepreneurs*

Reach out to potential clients to drum up business



Research how to open a business, including seeking advice from other entrepreneurs and business professionals



Test out a new business idea in my spare time



Save money or pay off debt



Seek out a coach/mentor or business advisor who can help me start and grow my business



Connect with investors



* "Aspiring entrepreneurs" are non-business owners who have thought about starting a business.

"Aspiring entrepreneurs today are more cautious about taking the leap into business ownership. Part of that may be generational and part of that may be influenced by the current economic and social environment," adds Darlington. "While caution and preparedness are important, it should never stand in the way of turning great ideas and entrepreneurial dreams into reality. The good news is, RBC has a wealth of insights, business advisors and solutions that go beyond traditional banking to help Canadians take the leap to ownership with greater confidence and ease."

RBC offers a range of easy-to-use, online and mobile solutions to help aspiring and active owners along every stage of their entrepreneurship journey. These include:

  • Ownr, a quick, affordable and online way to get your business registered or incorporated;
  • A selection of business account packages that can be opened online; and
  • A suite of business-tailored offers and digital solutions that go beyond traditional banking to help owners save time and money as they manage their day-to-day operations.

About the survey
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of RBC between June 21 and 24, 2019. For this survey, a sample of n = 2007 Canadians aged 18+ was surveyed online via the Ipsos I-Say sample and non-panel sources. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample reflects the population parameters of Canada and to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the results of the poll are considered accurate to within ±2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would be had all Canadian adults been polled. The interval will be wider among subsets of the sample population.

About RBC
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Media contact:
Yuri Park, RBC Corporate Communications, 437-229-2742


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