Older entrepreneurs as successful as their younger counterparts

April 19, 2020

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Older entrepreneurs as successful as their younger counterparts

A new study makes the case that entrepreneurship isn’t just for the young.


From Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, the stories of prosperous, young innovators drive the American economic narrative. However, the truth is that older business entrepreneurs may be just as well suited to success. And older women are far more successful at launching a business than their younger counterparts. Wow!


Those are among the findings reached by researchers in a study recently published in the Journal of Business Venturing.


What the researchers say: “Correcting people’s negative stereotypes about older entrepreneurs and encouraging people at later life stages to engage in entrepreneurship, is important,” said the lead author. “The United States has an increasing population of older adults that have skills and knowledge valuable to society. This study helps to illustrate their strengths.”


The researchers conducted a meta-analysis based on 102 independent samples and determined that the rate of success for people who launch a business in their 20s is the same as for those who become entrepreneurs in their 50s. This suggests that, while younger entrepreneurs are generally more adept at inventing new technology and making bold moves, their older counterparts have more wisdom, financial capital, and business connections.


They found that older entrepreneurs have slightly higher satisfaction levels and greater financial success than younger entrepreneurs. Their only disadvantage is slightly lower growth rates, an artifact of their companies tending to be larger in size.


Additionally, the study showed that age has a positive and significant effect on the success of female entrepreneurs.


“Our findings suggest women should not give up too readily, because their chance of success increases as they move to later life stages, and their perseverance ultimately tends to pay off,” the lead author said.


For those in their 30s and 40s, the prospects aren’t quite as good. He concluded that midlife is a challenging time to start a business. Childcare and elder care obligations also require valuable time and financial resources, and entrepreneurs do not have parental leave or day care benefits.


“Although it is generally commendable to pursue one’s entrepreneurial aspiration,” he said, “we suggest that early mid-life individuals carefully evaluate all of the resources at hand and take a realistic view of this career path before taking the leap.”


With many resources available to young entrepreneurs, the research supports the idea that government agencies and business incubators should identify channels to foster entrepreneurship for older adults as well.


So, what? I must confess that I have a personal interest in this research. I am an entrepreneur over the age of 50 and I’ve been starting, running and selling-off companies since the age of 28. They’ve been in the fields of TV production, a psychology practice, high-tech printing, toy manufacturing, boat-building, publishing, real estate, and, for the last 25 years, an international consultancy.


I have learned that the keys to success for an entrepreneur are fourfold:


-     Enjoy the process of what you’re doing. If you do, you’re more likely to succeed. Human beings are all about process, not ends or goals.

-     Run your business with the person you love. A business is essentially a tribe and at the center of that tribe should be a really close relationship.

-     Don’t be afraid to change the business if your interests, or the key relationships, change.

-     Don’t be in it for the money. The business guru Peter Drucker once said: “If you’re not in business to have fun, what on earth are you in business for?” Fortunately, I’ve had fun in every business I’ve been in.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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