Age and experience as resources for entrepreneurship
In public, entrepreneurship is often associated with assumptions about youth, which may lead others to consider whether age is a potential barrier to becoming a successful entrepreneur. The start-up world seems to be especially propelled by young people’s ambitions. Nevertheless, the mean age of the founders of the 1,000 fastest growing enterprises in the United States in 2018 was 45 years. In Finland, most entrepreneurs are over 45 years old.
In the EntreFox project, we actively seek to dispel the ageism linked to entrepreneurship and highlight the positive factors that age brings to entrepreneurship. With the EntreFox project, the workshops arranged for 55+ entrepreneurs and self-employed people have shown that, overall, age seems to have several positive effects on entrepreneurship. Often, a person with long history of employment has developed large networks, as well as tacit knowledge related to his or her trade or industry. Indeed, age seems to be the most comprehensive predictor of entrepreneurial success according to a study from 2019 made by researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois.
Experience plays a significant role in entrepreneurship. Whether a person is more or less experienced as an entrepreneur, she or he has accumulated a variety of skills from working life, often related to self-management and leadership. Based on our findings from the workshops, we have found that age also brings better self-awareness and an ability to understand what should be prioritized and what is less important for the business. However, it seems that many 55+ entrepreneurs do need more support in self-confidence and skills in online marketing.
It is undeniable that creativity and the ability to innovate are paramount skills for entrepreneurship. While these qualities are often associated with young entrepreneurs, the reality may be somewhat different. According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania, older adults were more capable of actively generating creative concepts and turned those ideas into innovative activities and artifacts, which positively revitalized a community, sustained an organization and supported other people than their younger counterparts.
Age also serves as a resource in the sense that a long-term worker has accumulated significant networks and customer relationships over the course of a career; these can be utilized when initiating an entrepreneurship. The life situation of a 55+ person may also allow for more flexibility when balancing child-care and paid work may no longer be necessary.
Furthermore, it is important to note that entrepreneurship should not only be understood as an alternative option for young professionals. Research and statistics have indicated that entrepreneurship may work best for those who have been employees relatively long and have accumulated sufficient leadership and self-management skills to run an efficient business. Entrepreneurship provides many people with a long career with the much-needed freedom and flexibility to reconcile personal life and work. The Covid-19 epidemic has pushed the economy into unknown territory where entrepreneurship – for instance, in selling expertise to several companies can sometimes be a safer option than paid work with a single employer.
Saara Vainio & Tytti Steel
University of Helsinki
Azoulay, P., Jones, B. F., Kim, D., & Javier, M., (2019). Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship. American Economic Review: Insights, vol 2(1), pages 65-82
Wang, X., Knearem, T., & Carroll, J. M. (2019). Never Stop Creating: A Preliminary Inquiry in Older Adults’ Everyday Innovations. In Proceedings of the 13th EAI International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (PervasiveHealth’19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 111–118. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3329189.3329192