Over the hump, and gathering speed

I think that was the punchline for a birthday card my older brother got a few years back.  But I think it says a lot about our generation (I’m 58, he recently crossed a scary threshold).  We’re not slowing down.  I’m working harder now than I did in my 20’s, and 30’s, and 40’s – and continue to learn new things at a breakneck pace.

So as I was catching up on my Economist reading earlier this year (February 25th issue), I was nodding my head vigorously at the Schumpeter column on page 81, “Enterprising Oldies – Founding new businesses is not a monopoly of the young, even if it seems so nowadays”.

Some quotes:

The rise of the infant entrepreneur is producing a rash of ageism, particularly among venture capitalists. Why finance a 40-year-old (with a family and mortgage) when you can back a 20-year-old who will work around the clock for peanuts and might be the next Mr Zuckerberg? But it is not hard to think of counter-examples: Mark Pincus was 41 when he founded Zynga and Arianna Huffington was 54 when she created the Huffington Post.

It’s not just anecdotal evidence, but research backs up the idea that enrerpreneurship is alive and kicking among us greybeards:

Research suggests that age may in fact be an advantage for entrepreneurs. Vivek Wadhwa of Singularity University in California studied more than 500 American high-tech and engineering companies with more than $1m in sales. He discovered that the average age of the founders of successful American technology businesses (ie, ones with real revenues) is 39. There were twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20. Dane Stangler of the Kauffman Foundation studied American firms founded in 1996-2007. He found the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity among people aged between 55 and 64—and the lowest rate among the Google generation of 20- to 34-year-olds. The Kauffman Foundation’s most recent study of start-ups discovered that people aged 55 to 64 accounted for nearly 23% of new entrepreneurs in 2010, compared with under 15% in 1996.

Here is a link to the full article:  Schumpeter Feb 25, 2012 Economist

The column concludes on a positive note about the implication of this phenomenon on our economic future:

The evidence that older people are if anything becoming more enterprising should help to calm two of the biggest worries that hang over the West (and indeed over an ageing China). One is that the greying of the population will inevitably produce economic sluggishness. The second is that older people will face hard times as companies shed older workers in the name of efficiency and welfare states cut back on their pensions.


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