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Leaving Their Mark

On the 10th of this month, my baby sister Jayne celebrates a birthday. Why is that important? Well, Jayne and the 300,000 or so other kids who were born in December 1964 are the last of the baby boomers to hit the big 4-0. This, in many ways, marks the end of an era. The generation that for so long has dominated American mind-sets and habits, that has permanently influenced fashion (think casual Fridays), cars (it's no coincidence that the Mustang was born the year the first boomers turned 18), music, and so much more is now "officially" all grown up. Sort of.

Actually, one of the legacies we boomers have contributed to our nation is: No one acts their age anymore. A survey I saw a few years ago said that Americans aged 35 to 85 acted 10 years younger than their chronological ages. And for entrepreneurs, that's a good thing. It gives you a wider market to sell your products and services to. Younger boomers like my sister have much in common with older Gen Xers. They share many of the same concerns and lifestyles-raising families, saving money, trying to balance work and home.

But I think one of the baby boomers' biggest contributions to our world is the entrepreneurial surge that has overtaken America since the late 1980s. Of course there were entrepreneurs before there were boomers-great ones, but they were the exception, not the rule. Today, kids going to business school aren't necessarily learning to become corporate-ladder climbers; they're studying entrepreneurship.

I'm not trying to hog credit for my generation. Indeed, our ability to embrace entrepreneurship was embedded in us by our parents, who tried to give us everything we needed and much of what we wanted. And we, in turn, passed this trait on to our kids and grandkids. Today, entrepreneurial thinking is not confined to business owners-it's not even restricted to business. We have teachers, artists, scientists and doctors (among others) who now embrace what were once conceived of as unconventional-and in some cases, unacceptable-behaviors.

It's now OK (well, more than OK) to be an entrepreneur. It didn't used to be. I've mentioned before that one of the early studies of entrepreneurs equated their traits to those of juvenile delinquents: don't follow orders, don't go along with the crowd, have their own ideas about how to do things. These, to be sure, are entrepreneurial characteristics, but they are also qualities largely associated with baby boomers.

Boomers are so large a generation (there are 77 million of us) that, as I said above, we've always affected the marketplace. And now that we're aging (the first round of boomers turn 60 in 2006), that will create more opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs. We're demanding products and services for ourselves, for our aging parents, and for our kids and grandkids. And smart entrepreneurs are filling those needs. "For an idea of what will be hot, check out "Fever Pitch." It's our annual look at the ideas, trends and businesses that will dominate in 2005. I'm certain you'll find it useful.

The past year has been a transitional year for many entrepreneurs. Hopefully, 2005 will bring prosperous times for all. All of us at Entrepreneur wish all of you a safe, happy and healthy holiday.

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This article was originally published in the December 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Leaving Their Mark.

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