January 09, 2015

Move over, Mark Zuckerberg. Although 23-year-old company founders make the news, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking among older Americans as well.
“One study we did of tech and engineering companies in the U.S. found that over about a decade period, there were more founders over 50 than there were under 30,” says Dane Stangler, vice president of Research & Policy at the Kauffman Foundation.
Instead of slowing down as they reach their 50s and 60s, an increasing number of baby boomers are identifying a need – whether it’s a glut of department store mannequins headed for the landfill or social services for kids in foster care – and building a company around it.
Stangler attributes these growing numbers to several factors. In part, seniors faced the same issues as their younger counterparts during the recession: fewer full-time traditional jobs, and a need to think of more creative ways to bring in revenue. Plus, people are living longer – and staying healthier. At age 60, many people still have 25 good, productive years left.

Starting your own company means taking a big chance, though, something that might be harder to do when the specter of retirement is just a few years away. But Elizabeth Isele, the founder and CEO of Senior Entrepreneurship Works, has found that many seniors she works with are actually less risk averse than millennials. Her company aims to help boost older entrepreneurs through education and advocacy.

“Many say, ‘I have failed so many times, I’m not worried about failing again because I know that I can pick myself up and keep going.’”

And, Isele adds, the two age groups could actually benefit from collaborating more, a phenomenon she's seen firsthand in her workshops.

“You have seniors who come with their work-life experience and you have young people with their technology social media skills…and the catalytic energy when those two mentor one another – it just creates a whole new business concept."

Stangler agrees, citing a study from the United Kingdom that found “companies that had mixed age founding teams – younger founders with older founders – were more successful than companies with just young founders or just old founders.”

As people live longer and the number of baby boomers increases, there’s an expectation that this trend will continue. That could lead to further breaking down the stereotypes of what an entrepreneur “should” be, opening the door for more diversity among startup founders.

And if you think you’re too old to start your own company, consider how much your life experience and current environment could help. “If I had tried to do this at age 40, I would have just totally been overwhelmed," adds Isele, now in her early 70s.

Business, Dane Stangler, Elizabeth Isele, entrepreneurs

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