Throughout American history, the entrepreneurial spirit has remained strong. This same spirit dwelled within the early frontiersmen who explored the West. The same passion fueled the barons of the Industrial Age like Carnegie and Vanderbilt. And in more modern times, many associate the word entrepreneur with names like Jobs, Gates, Bezos and Musk. Because of this, many people envision today’s stereotypical entrepreneur as being young, techy, and, in many cases, male. But this image is actually not stereotypical at all. In fact, the most successful entrepreneurs often have almost a completely opposite profile.
Several surveys and studies now show that the average entrepreneur today is often in their forties. In some countries, like Australia, the 55-to-64-year-old age group represents the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs around. While at this may seem unusual at first, there are many reasons why this is the case. Not only is the entrepreneurial spirit timeless and free of age-related limits. But today’s business climate is ideal for those a bit older who wish to pursue their own passions. This means anyone thinking about starting a new business should ignore the naysayers. And it means we need to readjust what we think is the stereotypical entrepreneur.
”Across billion-dollar companies, the age range is quite substantial. Some founders were as young as eighteen, others as old as sixty-eight when they started their companies. The median age of a billion-dollar startup’s founder was thirty-four years old.” – Ali Tamaseb, Author of Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups
The Modern-Day Stereotypical Entrepreneur
In the last few years, several groups have accumulated date regarding the modern-day entrepreneur. In each case, it has become clear that the stereotypical entrepreneur isn’t the young, super-energetic techy grad in Silicon Valley. Among all entrepreneurs, the average age is actually 40 years. And among those heading up startups that lead to market success, the average age if 45 years. Not only are those launching new businesses older, but those who tend to be more successful. In fact, in contrast to the 50% fail-rate of most new businesses, older entrepreneurs with experience have an 85% success-rate.
While this may go against our vision of the stereotypical entrepreneur, such circumstances aren’t necessarily new. For example, Henry Ford was in his mid-forties when he first built the Model T. (Read up on Henry Ford in this Bold Leadership profile!) Sam Walton was also 44 years of age when he started Walmart. And Ray Kroc, of McDonald’s fame, began his franchising and real estate empire in his early fifties. Each of these individuals had a healthy dose of the entrepreneurial spirit and pursued in later in life. The only difference today is that such circumstances are more common, and for good reason.
“Given their deep expertise accumulated from their work experience in a specific domain or field, experienced professionals are actually better positioned to start successful new enterprises that go on to generate meaningful economic growth and value.” – Daniel Kim, Assistant Professor of Management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
The Perfect Climate for an Entrepreneurial Spirit
Compared to generations past, today’s business environment is certainly more amenable to startups and new businesses. With the Internet, Wi-Fi and cloud computing, many cost barriers are less. At the same time, the gig economy has paved the way for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Freelancers, contract workers, and side-hustlers abound in today’s marketplace, fueled by recent pandemic pressures. And increasingly, larger corporations are realizing the benefits of outsourcing and a virtual workforce. (Dig deeper into how Bold Business is maximizing the virtual workforce in this Bold story.) All of these developments have made it easier to individuals to start their own business.
As these shifts have occurred, the stereotypical entrepreneur profile has changed as well. Indeed, roughly 70% of all young adults graduating from college want to start their own business. But at the same time, half of all adults do as well. Experts now predict that there will be over 86 million freelancers in the U.S. by 2027. This represents over half the U.S. workforce. Likewise, the first three quarters of 2020 saw a higher number of new business applications than all of 2019. Much of this increase has occurred because a larger percentage of older individuals are taking an entrepreneurial leap.
“They’ve got the ‘university of life’ and the networks – and now they can add all these new competencies.” – Dr. Alex Maritz, La Trobe University
Specific Advantages of the Older Entrepreneur
In addition to a changing business environment, the age of the stereotypical entrepreneur has increased for other reasons as well. Notably, entrepreneurs in their forties and fifties enjoy a broader network upon which they can rely. At the same time, they have gained deeper knowledge and experience in various industries. Many have also acquired some level of capital and wealth, making it easier to launch a new business. As more older individuals embrace their entrepreneurial spirit, they begin to see how age can be an asset. It’s therefore no wonder that older entrepreneurs often enjoy a higher level of success.
The other advantage offers older adults involves greater opportunities for hybrid entrepreneurship. By definition, hybrid entrepreneurship is where someone leverages their current job to explore new startup opportunities. As employees have become accustomed to work remotely from home, they have seized the opportunity to start a side business. Often, such side businesses are fueled by interests and passion. And older workers are often able to balance both endeavors at the same time given their knowledge and experience. The ingredients of older age and an entrepreneurial spirit often offer a great recipe for success. Hybrid entrepreneurship is a way to take advantage of this combination.
A New Definition of the Stereotypical Entrepreneur
Instead of thinking of the stereotypical entrepreneur from an age perspective, other qualities need to define such a personality. These are individuals at any age who enjoy an entrepreneurial spirit of innovation, inspiration, and confidence. They believe in themselves and their ideas. And they are willing to go it alone, take significant risks, and launch their own business. Regardless of age, these are the defining qualities of an entrepreneur. And they have never been more prevalent than they are today.