With high unemployment and a challenging job market, more former nine-to-five employees are wondering: should I start my own business? Is it too late? We've all heard those stories of college kids starting successful businesses, but what about business start-ups of the not-so-young? Here are six successful entrepreneurs who got their start late in life. (Thinking about staring a small business? See 9 Tips For Growing A Successful Business.)

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  1. Harland (Colonel) Sanders - Kentucky Fried Chicken
    Who doesn't know Colonel Sanders, the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken? The fast food restaurant chain may have locations all over the world today, but it all started in Corbin, Kentucky. After various jobs as a farm hand, army private, insurance salesman and the like, Harland Sanders started a small restaurant in the front room of a gas station in 1930 - in the middle of a depression, at age 40. This gutsy move paid off, but it wasn't until the Colonel was 62 that the restaurant began franchise operations. Colonel Sanders died in 1980, but got to see his business grow to 6,000 franchises with a $2 billion in sales - proving that a mid-life start-up can mean big bucks.
  2. Wally Blume - Denali Flavors
    It's not easy to bail on a 20-year career, but that's exactly what Wally Blume did in his mid-fifties. After his boss came up with tomato-flavored ice cream, Blume knew it was time to leave, and started Denali Flavors together with his wife June, with trademarked flavors like Moose Tracks, Caramel Caribou and Bear Claw to name but a few. His leap into the ice cream business paid off: at age 70, Wally Blume's Denali Flavors boasts about $80 million in sales, showing that life after fifty-five can be anything you want it to be. (Before starting out, don't miss 5 Expensive Small Business Mistakes.)
  3. Jill Boehler - Chilly Jilly
    Ever been to a restaurant and froze because the air conditioning had been cranked to the max? Jill Boehler did, and was inspired to design a wrap women could carry in their purse for just this kind of chilly emergency. Chilly Jilly was born, a company that's expected to gross $1 million this year. Founder Jill Boehler, age 57, had all but given up on business success, but as it turned out, inspiration found her after all.

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  1. Art Koff - RetiredBrains.com
    You'd think retirement would bring the easy life - but not for Art Koff. After 40 years in recruitment advertising communications, Koff couldn't imagine not getting up and going to work every morning. He figured he might not be alone in his desire to keep working in retirement and in 2003 he started RetiredBrains.com, an online job board for senior Americans. Art Koff, now age 74, has seven employees today, keeping him plenty busy during his golden years. (Thinking about renting out your property? Read Top 10 Features Of A Profitable Rental Property.)
  2. C. Kumar N. Patel - Pranalytica
    C. Kumar N. Patel had a successful 32-year career with Bell Laboratories under his belt in 2000, inventing the carbon dioxide laser among many other accomplishments. You'd think that at 62, with 38 patents to his name, Patel would be ready to pack it in. Not so: he started Pranalytica, developing electronic equipment and instruments, like sensors that analyze human breath for illness. With revenues expected at $8 million, C. Kumar N. Patel shows that being a senior citizen doesn't mean that your work has to be done. (For further reading, see Starting A Small Business In Tough Economic Times.)
  3. Carol Gardner - Zelda Wisdom
    What do you do when you're broke, depressed, in the middle of a divorce and 52 years old? Carol Gardner found herself in just that deep dark hole, and got a dog when her therapist advised her to do so: an English bulldog she named Zelda. After winning a local Christmas card contest with a funny line and dog picture, Gardner started Zelda Wisdom, a greeting card and gift company. Zelda Wisdom is now worth roughly $50 million, proving that you can turn adversity into profit even later in life, especially if you have a cute and funny dog.

The Bottom Line
Inspired? If these stories don't do it for you, consider this statistic: 63% of adults plan to work into retirement. With today's tough job market and high unemployment, many are starting their own business - 55-plus startups make for 28% of new businesses according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which has a section especially for the 50-plus entrepreneur. College kids and their ventures may be making all the headlines, but it's the older generation that's taking its energy, experience, and enthusiasm to take the leap into entrepreneurship in droves. These stories prove that no matter if you have decades of experience or just get chilly at a restaurant, it's never too late to strike out on your own.

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: The Beginning Of A Foreclosure Crisis?

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