Startup Alley: The Best Age to Start Your Innovative Startup

Many people associate an innovative Startup enterprise with young entrepreneurs.  This perception has been powerfully etched in our mind by the success stories of young technology stars grabbing the headlines.  The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, recently became the youngest billionaire at the age of 27.  Microsoft, Google, RIM and Groupon were all founded by students or people in their 20s.  

But, if you think that the young are the only ones who take risks and have the passion to become star entrepreneurs, think again.  Recent research suggests otherwise.

An article in Technology Review published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states that, “innovators today… are actually getting older”. The article asserts that individuals in their 50s and beyond are building just as many successful companies – as their younger and more celebrated counterparts.   Vice President of Innovation at Singularity University in Silicon Valley, Vivek Wadhwa, found that the average age of the founders of successful U.S. Technology businesses with real revenues, is 39.  His article Innovation Without Age Limits revealed that twice as many entrepreneurs were over 50 as were under 25.  He goes on to explain that age may in fact be an advantage for entrepreneurs.

Passion and innovative ideas alone are no guarantee for business survival.  Experience, contacts and access to funds continue to count for a great deal of the prosperity of your new business.  Mold-breaking creativity and unique expertise are key ingredients for business success at any age.

There are many celebrated older founders, known for thinking outside-the-box.  Mark Pincus was 41 when he founded Zynga.  Arianna Huffington was 54 when she created the Huffington Post.  The legendary Ray Kroc was in his 50s when he bought the first McDonald’s Restaurant to establish the best ever franchise system, and Colonel Sanders was in his 60s when he founded the KFC chain.

Surprisingly, if you look beyond the young stars; you’re likely to find many baby boomers participating in entrepreneurial activity, according to the top US entrepreneurship institute, the Kauffman Foundation.   Its latest study discovered that roughly 23% of new entrepreneurs in 2010 were in the 55 to 64 age group.

Kauffman and other groups such as Tech-Town in Detroit have started working towards raising awareness to the benefit of starting a business – both for boomers and the economy.

Boomers have some strong motivators to pursue their startup ideas. For many, the prospect of finding, or keeping their high paying jobs until retirement, has faded with the economic downturn.   In fact, ‘oldies’ often have some natural advantages for self employment, including cutting-edge expertise, business networks and finance.

And, let’s remember, boomers have re-invented themselves every decade since their teens. This decade is no different.  With the increase in life expectancy, many boomers are not interested in retirement.  A healthy competent 60-year old can expect to live another 20 years or more.  That’s a long time to be sitting in a rocking chair.    Many want to continue to make career and life choices. They are interested in building something and remaining engaged.

So, what is the best age to launch your innovative startup?

The rise of young entrepreneurs is significant and exciting.  They are leading the charge in starting mobile and web based companies.  Barriers to entry are disappearing for them.  Social networks make it easier to build contacts and the initial capital required to start a digital based enterprise is relatively low.   However, while the barriers are collapsing for young innovators, barriers are not erected for the grey haired entrepreneurs.  We live in magical times for entrepreneurs and startups.  Nowadays, the creation of fast growing innovative businesses is open to everybody, regardless of age.