Brian Norlund, 51, from Stockton, pleaded guilty to a series of deception charges when he appeared before Teeside Crown Court.
The court heard that Norlund had particularly targeted the sick and the elderly, promising them a good return if they invested their retirement money with him.
But instead of investing the money properly, he put it into his own failing business where it was all lost.
On one occasion, he told a pensioner that he would invest her money so that she could have sufficient return to pay for her husband to stay in a care home where he suffered from Alzheimer’s. But the money was never invested.
Norlund was eventually stopped when one of his clients became suspicious and called police.
In mitigation, his barrister Brian Russell said: “He has effectively ruined his own life as well as the lives of others.
“Norlund thought that one day his ship would come in – that he would be bought out by a larger company. In order to tide himself until that day came, he thought he would prop up what can only be described as a floundering business.”
Jailing Norlund, recorder David Dobbin said: “The victims were largely vulnerable people relying on your supposed expertise to invest their money for their futures.
“These were mean-spirited offences preying on elderly people and, in some cases, confused people, who were relying on you.”
Only a small portion of the money has been recovered.