Rise of the New Passionates

Entrepreneurs and retirees are creating opportunities — and even entire markets — through which to share their personal interests

Back Article Dec 22, 2014 By Gordon Fowler

Today, new passionates are creating a bigger impact than ever thanks to a glorious convergence of technological advancements, global connectivity, changing values and economic factors. Quite literally, they are changing the world in their image. And the businesses, nonprofits, community groups and governments willing to support and embrace them can also benefit.

So who, exactly, are we talking about?

Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity: Water, who left a career as a nightclub promoter to bring clean, safe water to every person in the world, is a new passionate. Bill and Melinda Gates, who use their wealth to make major impacts around the world, are new passionates. And so is Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who has become the face of advocacy for the education of women worldwide. They are the people who have discovered a personal enthusiasm for a particular value and are now applying entrepreneurial zeal to capitalize on that passion.​

If you have never heard the term “new passionate,” that makes sense. I made it up. It was coined during a recent conversation with a close friend. For years, he worked hard and rarely complained about his job, but he never showed much enthusiasm or pride in his work, preferring to talk instead about the highs and lows of his favorite sports teams. Then one day he lit up like a firecracker while talking about his plans to open a sports bar after retirement. He’d found his new passion.

I’ve seen this phenomenon repeat as other friends hit a wall in their careers or began to fantasize about their plans post-retirement. They talk about opportunities to volunteer around the world, open nonprofits, lead community project committees, head up philanthropic boards, try out new careers and launch new businesses. Suddenly, the world is full of these new passionates.

On the surface, new passionates might seem synonymous with hobbyists or entrepreneurs. But they’re not. While hobbyists are certainly passionate about their pursuits, they are mostly focused on sustaining that interest as a break within their established schedules. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are certainly creators, and passionate ones at that. But it’s the win being chased through their endeavors that most motivates them. They’re competitive, aggressive and focused on the endgame, whether profit or sale, so they can move on to the next opportunity.

While new passionates share traits from both these groups, it’s their idea and its impact on the world that drives them. New passionates see a need in themselves, recognize where it can fit into the world and find ways to share it on a larger scale. Often, these ideas aren’t new or innovative, and the ultimate goal isn’t a large payday.

New passionates are filling niches. Today’s world is one big niche marketplace. Maybe you have a deep love for artisanal dark chocolate marshmallows or you only want your donation dollars to support gorillas in the Congo. Whatever your interest or preference, there’s an opportunity to buy it or pursue it. And if there’s not, there’s an opportunity to create it and connect with a community of other people who share that love. This is almost entirely thanks to new passionates and their ability to capitalize on technology and social networks.

New passionates are collaborating. More than creating opportunities, new passionates are partnering and collaborating to expand their ideas and pursuits while lifting others throughout their communities with them. This community-minded approach to business and service is making niches mainstream, connecting business partners and nonprofits with customers they never thought to pursue, addressing needs with innovative solutions, and bringing together people who may not ever have met.

New passionates are redefining retirement. One of the biggest groups of emerging new passionates is retirees. Multitudes of baby boomers are nearing that metaphorical finish line and taking a long, hard look at what they want for their future. Many find they aren’t interested in experiencing a traditional retirement. This group is full of people looking for what’s next: big plans and ideas, dreams they’ve always wanted to fulfill and bucket lists of endeavors to accomplish.

They’re also challenging the very core of what it means to grow old in America. They are reinvigorating their later years by creating a vibrant new economy full of opportunity for their communities.

Whether they’re operating billion-dollar budgets or self-funding from their own savings accounts, running global charities or garage-based businesses, new passionates not only challenge traditional paths, but are forging new ways of thinking about what it means to make a living and define a community. It’s not a question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s all about, “Who do you want to be for the rest of your life?”

For businesses and community organizations, this means a ready and growing market of loyal and passionate consumers waiting for solutions. Tapping into their needs may mean expanding your current product lines and service offerings or repurposing existing ones in new ways. It could also mean identifying opportunities for developing new programs, volunteer positions, civic projects or specialized donation streams. All it takes are smart, ambitious leaders willing to think differently — to think like the new passionates.

Industrious business owners and community leaders do this by following the new passionates leads. Invest your time identifying and researching trends, and connect with those emerging communities. You can start finding them through social media hashtags and trending topics, up-and-coming blogs and local meet-up groups. Once youve found them, listen to identify the opportunities that exist for you and your business to connect. Not only could you build a strong, new customer base while expanding your bottom line, you might also discover the new passion inside yourself.​

Recommended For You


Stop, Drop, Open Up Shop

The region’s new Small Business Development Center sends a clear message: We want YOU for the Capital Region

Existing business expansion is the single biggest source of job creation in the United States, accounting for nearly two-thirds of new jobs nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s why the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is bolstering small businesses by kicking off a one-stop shop for regional employers looking to grow and expand.

Nov 17, 2014 John Blomster