Small businesses across the U.S. are about to get a facelift.A study sponsored by business software provider Intuit and written by the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit research group, found that by 2017, small business entrepreneurs will reflect a more diversified, educated population. The white middle-aged male, who for decades was the dominant demographic in American business, will be outnumbered by people near retirement and their children, who are just starting careers.

The next decade will introduce an "era of economic decentralization," which will include professional women tired of hitting the glass ceiling, immigrants, "mompreneurs" looking for part-time work and intellectual stimulation while they stay at home, passionate Baby Boomers who aren't ready to retire yet, and Gen Y-ers (those born after 1982) who think that freelancing and contract work is more exciting and satisfying than a corporate post.

"The folks who are starting these businesses are different from who started them in the past," explained Steven Aldrich, vice president of strategy and innovation for Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit, of The Intuit Future of Small Business Report.

The report stated that 1,600 new businesses in the U.S. are started by women every day. They also make up 46 percent of the U.S. labor force, but are under-represented at top levels.

According to the report, more than 76 million Baby Boomers are scheduled to retire in the next 10 years, but the IFTF expects that more than half won't retire traditionally. Faced with premature retirement, armed with capital and a range of job skills, Baby Boomers see starting a new business as a realistic way to meet their financial and social goals.

"For years we had been conditioned to think that starting a business was the realm of the young," said Anita Campbell, chief executive of Small Business Trends, a Medina, Ohio-based blog site, who also participated in the study. "As the report outlines, we're going through some pretty dramatic changes from where this picture might have looked 20 years ago."

MORE TO COME

The small business study will present its findings in three installments. The first, released in January, focuses on demographic trends and small business. The second installment will cover technology trends, and the third report will discuss industrial structure and economic decentralization.

"We're hoping to get more visibility into the small business economy and how important it is in the U.S., by raising awareness and getting people talking about it," Aldrich said.

Aside from diversity in business ownership, the initial report offers two other findings: an increase in the one-person, no-employee business that will lead to more independent workers seeking a better work/life balance, and a shift where entrepreneurship will become part of educational curricula, offering those in the creative economy a better background in small-business management.

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