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Celebrating Older Entrepreneurs: Meet Catherine Winckler

Celebrating Older Entrepreneurs: Meet Catherine Winckler

By Susan Williams

Older entrepreneurs are doing some amazing things!

To highlight this, we are delighted to introduce you to three Wise 50 Over 50 Award Winners.

Each of these entrepreneurs share their journey, perspectives and advice on what it’s like being an older entrepreneur.

Meet Our First Entrepreneur:

Catherine Winckler, Founder & CEO, MindfulGarden Digital Health

What motivated you to become an entrepreneur later in life?

I have always been an entrepreneur, either solo or in partnerships. I owned a gourmet soup business, a corporate communications company, and spent 20 years as a partner in one of Canada’s largest digital design companies creating digital experiences for TV networks and independent producers and for special events including the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

What I could not have predicted was that at 64 I would be starting the most complicated and important start-up of my life, taking everything I had learned in digital technologies and applying it to finding an alternative to reliance on use of psychotropic drugs and restraints in the care of our frail elderly with hyperactive dementia and delirium. MindfulGarden is the result — a digital therapeutic medical device now undergoing clinical study at a regional long term care centre.

What motivated me (rather than just retire and travel as my friends are doing) was something that I have observed motivates many of the senior entrepreneurs I meet in the health care field — a personal story. A burning desire to make a difference because of something that has either happened personally or to a loved one. In 2000, our mother died a tragic and probably unnecessary death after 19 days at a regional hospital post elective hip replacement surgery.

The coroner found over 30 serious issues of continuity of care, but one of the things that really lived with me was the fact that she was misdiagnosed as having dementia, rather than delirium, drugged heavily, and left alone. Our family chose to share the much publicized story on Esthers Voice and it has now become a teaching tool worldwide.

But most life-changing and pivotal for me, one of the clinicians I met challenged me to use everything I knew from the digital design world to find a way to create a new tool in the arsenal of dementia and delirium care. And so that’s what we are now developing in MindfulGarden and it is a very exciting time to be an entrepreneur — although rather daunting to be in a challenging field like healthcare and be learning a new ‘language’ at this stage of my entrepreneurial life.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

Many years ago in one of my lifetimes, I worked for a TV gameshow company (Alex Trebek was host of this long-forgotten Canadian show called ‘Pitfall’ filmed in Vancouver). I was the contestant coordinator and it was my job to put the exact right people together to create a great show — to know which contestants would work well with the gameshow host, and which would have chemistry when playing against each other. I realize this is simplistic answer, but it’s what I love about being an entrepreneur. Taking disparate ideas, synthesizing them around a big idea, and finding the exact right people to bring the idea to life.

What is the biggest challenge to being an older entrepreneur?

The biggest challenge to being an entrepreneur at my age is probably the same as it is for all entrepreneurs: Finding the cashflow to fill the gaps between each of the milestones in a business. British Columbia is a great province for early stage start-ups offering incubators and free office space, among other services and initial help in funding. But once a company gets a little traction and just before commercialization, the funding is scarce and the described dreaded ‘gap’ is very real. The US is much more supportive of this seed stage entrepreneur and so we will be heading south I suspect for the significant funding to support this next stage of development.

What advice would you give to other potential older entrepreneurs?

I’ve noticed with fellow entrepreneurs of my age (and I am certainly guilty of this) that we may have some savings at this age and so we are more than willing to throw significant dollars into this passion we have. It’s critical to have skin in the game for sure — but my experience is that if you can’t raise funds outside your own as well via a great business plan and well-thought out business roadmap, this might be something that is more of a hobby than a viable and scaleable business. There’s nothing like the pit in the stomach feeling when you are pitching a group of would-be investors, then fielding their tough questions, that keeps you on track for business success — at any age.

So the advice is, use some of your own money, but a great way to test if it’s a good idea or not, is go out and raise some monies against the idea.

Meet Our Other Two Entrepreneurs;

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.