He was 66 and almost broke after a new highway drove traffic away from his once-successful Corbin, Kentucky, restaurant.
But Harland Sanders didn't give up. Instead, he worked on putting together a franchise business on the strength of a fried chicken recipe he'd spent years perfecting. That business became known as KFC and in 1964, Sanders -- also known as Col. Sanders -- sold his stake in the company for $2 million. By then, he was in his 70s.
While Sanders, who died in 1980, may be the ultimate example of an older entrepreneur who struck it rich, Ken Budd, the executive editor of AARP, the magazine, says that seeking business success in one's golden years is especially common among today's Baby Boomer generation.
"They're focusing on possibilities and opportunities and redefining what it means to be old," Budd said.
Nearly one in three business owners are older than 55, according to a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey.
"The idea that you're just going to retire at 65 is becoming an outdated notion," Budd said. "It's more that time when people say, 'I'm going to do that thing I've always dreamed about.'"
Following their dreams, he said, gives older entrepreneurs a passion for their business that helps them succeed -- though not everyone becomes self-employed by choice. Budd said that layoffs during this last recession has forced many older, newly jobless Americans to reinvent their careers, including, in some cases, starting their own companies.
Fortunately, those with years of experience often find they have strong networks and skills that can help get their businesses off the ground. That was true of Sanders, Budd said.
"Here was a guy who clearly knew what he was doing and how to market himself," he said.
Below, ABCNews.com takes a look at other older entrepreneurs who are following Sanders' lead. They may not be as famous as Sanders, but they've already gotten their fair share of attention: several have been profiled in Entrepreneur Magazine as well as other publications.
Franny Martin had spent three decades working in corporate marketing for companies like McDonald's and Domino's Pizza.
Then, when sitting at her desk one day, she asked herself, "If this was actually my last day on earth, is this what I want to be doing?"
The answer was no.
At nearly 56, Martin decided to give up her corporate career and go into full-time cookie-baking. Her husband had planted the idea in her head sometime earlier, after enjoying Martin's homemade chocolate chunk hazelnut cookies.
"He said, 'This is the best cookie I ever tasted, have you ever thought of selling it?'" she said.
In 2002, she did. Martin started baking in her own kitchen, intending at first to just deliver cookies within a 20-mile radius of her home. But word of Martin's cookies soon spread beyond her target area.
"One thing led to another and three customers asked me if I would ship the cookies," she said.
Now, Martin says, she ships cookies all over the world, including Germany, Italy and China, as well as to troops in Iraq. She also owns her own shop in Douglas, Michigan, and has a staff of five.
She says the company has recently grossed roughly half a million dollars and she aims to one day exceed the $1 million mark.
"If you do what you're passionate about," she said, "the money will follow."