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Entrepreneurs After Age 50

Here are two individuals and a couple who retired from one career only to launch another

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Delayed Dream Now Achieved

Angie Higa holds up an early model of her Sky Dreams travel bag, which opens up to become a blanket and pillow.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

When Angie Higa was a young mother, she dreamed of having her own business so she could stay home with her two girls. But she was consumed by a flourishing career with Central Pacific Bank, where she’d started as a teller and would eventually rise to VP and commercial branch manager.

Cut to 23 years later. Eldest daughter Sheena, a single mom, is deployed to Afghanistan, so Higa retires and becomes a fulltime grandmother to Sheena’s 1-year-old. But Higa’s creative juices are flowing because of a chilly flight to the mainland a couple of years earlier during which no blankets were offered to passengers. How could she turn a blanket and pillow into an attractive travel accessory that would get on the plane without being counted as baggage?

Sky Dreams LLC was born.

Higa already had the necessary production skills: She had spent countless childhood evenings sitting at the kitchen table copying the stitches of her seamstress mother. From the time she was 11, she designed, sold and made money from handcrafted items. During those years of full-time work at the bank, she spent nights and weekends designing dresses and selling them at craft fairs.

In the late 1980s, when her second daughter, Shadae, was an infant, a loyal bank customer who knew Higa was a nursing mother pulled her aside and whispered that her nursing pad had slipped and was showing. Always dressed for success, Higa was horribly embarrassed. But, privately, she questioned why they were flat round pads that didn’t conform to the shape of a woman’s body.

That night at home, she designed and sewed a contoured and washable nursing pad. She showed it to someone working with breastfeeding mothers in Hawaii and that led to an offer to submit a bid in California for a million nursing pads. Higa couldn’t manufacture that many, so she turned to the Hawaii Small Business Development Center for guidance and outsourced the pads.

Her “retirement” from the bank in 2008, at the height of the recession, was shortlived. Six months later, while being a 24-7 grandmother, she launched her business.
She found a blanket her mother had made 27 years earlier and turned it into a perfect travel blanket/bag. When a former client asked what she was doing during retirement, she showed her creation. The client was impressed and spread the word. “Two weeks later, I had over $1,000 worth of orders,” Higa says.
Higa wanted to do it right, so she turned to Mary Dale at the Small Business Administration, someone Higa had worked with during her banking career. She also called Caroline Kim at the Small Business Development Center.

“They provided me with valuable information and resources. Their knowledge and expertise … enabled me to make better business decisions. As a business owner juggling many hats, it is always best to toss your ideas to experts who provide counseling.”

Angie Higa’s Entrepreneurial Insights

  • Be sure there is a need for your product or service.
  • Know your customers and win their loyalty by providing them with a quality product and exceptional service.
  • Be passionate about what you are doing.
  • Think twice about withdrawing from your retirement account or 401K to sustain your business. You may have to return to the work force if you deplete all your retirement assets.
  • Stay up to date by attending trade shows in your industry.
  • Social media is crucial to promote your product.
  • Never skimp on quality.

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