An Old Knee Injury Gives Retired Executive a Chance at Entrepreneurship

By Martin, Claire | International New York Times, December 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

An Old Knee Injury Gives Retired Executive a Chance at Entrepreneurship


Martin, Claire, International New York Times


Entering the business of biomechanically engineered tights, a retiree joins many baby boomers who have become entrepreneurs late in life.

When Kim Gustafson moved to Vail Valley in Colorado more than a decade ago, he was 54 and had recently retired as an executive in the office-equipment business. But he wasn't ready to stop working. "I'm not the type of person who wanted to play checkers," he says.

Mr. Gustafson is one of a growing number of baby boomers starting businesses later in life -- though that was not his original plan. Initially, he worked as a ski instructor. But he found that degenerative arthritis and the wear-and-tear of his rigorous skiing schedule were exacerbating an injury he had sustained several years earlier after falling from a ladder.

Mr. Gustafson sought treatment at the Steadman Clinic, an orthopedic surgery center based in Vail, eventually undergoing five knee surgeries. To continue to teach skiing, he was told, he would need to wear a hard, cumbersome knee brace every time he hit the slopes.

As he grew accustomed to the brace, he began to wonder whether people with less vulnerable joints than his might benefit from a more pliable and comfortable form of knee support -- perhaps a pair of tights. To explore this possibility, he turned to a group of biomechanical experts at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, a branch of the Steadman Clinic.

Coincidentally, the researchers had been contemplating something similar, and they began drawing sketches of nylon and spandex tights embedded with bands of rigid fabric to protect the knees by restoring them to their natural alignment.

Mr. Gustafson and scientists from the institute struck an unusual agreement: They would develop the tights together, and if the product reached the marketplace, the institute would receive royalties to be applied to future research projects or the hiring of scientists. Within two years, Mr. Gustafson started a company he eventually called Opedix and began selling the biomechanically engineered tights online.

His decision to start a business in his late 50s is far from unusual. A report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that late-in-life entrepreneurs -- ages 55 to 64 -- now make up 23 percent of new business owners, up from 14 percent in 1996. And the results of a survey released this month by the Pew Research Center showed that baby boomers were less likely to say that job security was "extremely important" to them than members of two younger groups: millennials and members of Generation X -- suggesting an inclination toward entrepreneurship. …

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