Entrepreneurial Myth or Real Talk- Is Entrepreneurship Best When Young?

Entrepreneurship is a young man’s hustle. This is a notion that’s been held by many for years. We’ve all heard the stories about the 20-something year-old tech geniuses who built multi-million dollar corporations from their garages before they turned thirty.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page were each about 25 when they launched Google. Steve Jobs had just turned 21 and Steve Wozniak was 26 when they created Apple. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were shy of 23 when they created Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he gave us Facebook. Sam Walton was just 26 when Wal-Mart first appeared on the scene, and Sean Parker was in his 20s when he first launched Napster.

Forbes annually publishes a list of “Youngest Billionaires on the Forbes 400.” Google searches for young billionaires yield a virtual treasure trove of articles like, “30 under 30” or Youngest Billionaires, 31-40.”

It’s undeniable, there is a plethora of young, financial trailblazers who’ll never again have to worry about slaving away inside a cubicle, getting ordered around an office, getting fired or polishing up a résumé.

Striking out while young has its advantages. Most of the young have nothing to lose, haven’t learned to respect failure, are loaded with energy and enthusiasm and don’t have to worry about mortgages, car payments or children to feed.

According to a recent Forbes article, “Without having been in the workplace, the young entrepreneur has a fresh perspective untainted from the way-it-is-supposed-to-be mindset that is so prevalent in most boardrooms. Consequently, their solutions are new, innovative, and groundbreaking.”

But a closer look at the data suggests creative thinkers and innovators can be found from all backgrounds and all ages.

A survey conducted last year by the Kaufmann Foundation showed “nominal shifts in age composition of the sample between 2012 and 2013, with slightly fewer entrepreneurs aged 18-29 and 50-59, and slightly more aged 30-39 and 60-plus.”

In fact, entrepreneurs aged between 50-59 started 20% of all new businesses. About 15% were started by people aged 60 and above.

In his book The Illusions of Entrepreneurship, Scott Shane, professor of economics and entrepreneurial studies at Cape Western Reserve University says, “Most studies show that people aged between 25-34 are either less likely or no more likely than people between the ages of 35 and 44 to start a business.”

After extensive research, Shane agrees that the highest rate of self-employment and business ownership is usually among those between the ages of 45 and 64.

There is only one Tech industry and just one silicon valley. It’s expected to have young innovative minds at the helm.

What about business owners that deal in construction, agriculture, medicine, dentistry, jewelry, architecture, psychology, sailing, and all the other industries in the country that haven’t gone completely digital? Someone has to create and run these too and chances are it’s not a 20-something sitting in the driver’s seat.

The advantages of established professional networks and experience also cannot be underestimated. Potential entrepreneurs need some sort of support structure during the early stages and periods of uncertainty when launching a business.

Things like credit scores and personal savings must also be taken into account, areas where the majority of our youth are sorely lacking. Having finances in order can be a deal clincher when trying to secure bank loans to fund a startup.

There is also the military factor. Returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, usually in their 30s or early 40s constitute a large pool of entrepreneurs and business owners. Consider this quote from an Iraqi War veteran to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Mark Rockefeller writes, “Veterans are natural business owners. Surveys show that military service is one of the strongest predictors of business ownership. Military veterans make up only 6% of the population but nearly 15% of business owners.”

They also provide jobs for more than eight million Americans.

Young millionaire success stories are all over Google, but we rarely ever hear about the ones who struck out and there are millions of failed entrepreneurs and failed business ideas littered across the country.

While young, savvy, budding entrepreneurs can afford to swing for the fences and bring a different creative mindset to the table, without a slam-dunk winning business idea, most angels, venture capitalists, banks and credit unions are more likely to bet on the middle-aged, wiser, more patient and experienced figure standing across from them making the pitch.

In February 2014, during her opening statement at the Special Committee on Aging and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Senator Susan Collins summed it up this way, “The role played by America’s small businesses in creating jobs and opportunities is well-known, but the role played by America’s seniors may come as a surprise: Individuals between the ages of 55-64 make up the largest percentage of new business owners in the US. This has been true for decades, even at the height of the dot com boom.”