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Blog · Magazine

The Rise of Senior Entrepreneurs

As far as digital natives are concerned there are several factors the heads of successful start-ups have in common.

Firstly, most see America’s Silicon Valley as the holy grail of all things technology, innovation and social media related and, secondly – owing in part to the massive success of tech entrepreneurs such as the 27-year old Snap founder Evan Spiegel, 33-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, aged 34 – many see this entrepreneurial success as the sole preserve of the young.

“Young people are just smarter,” Zuckerberg once remarked, conveniently overlooking the fact that it was baby boomer innovators such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee who led the information revolution in the first place.

Yet with a plethora of business resources now available, increasing numbers of Australian seniors are harnessing online tutorials, online video tutorials and online ‘how to’ articles to source inspiration and turn their business dreams into reality.

While many have yet to reach the dizzying commercial heights of big name brands such as Apple or Microsoft, and those who have invented a product as globally significant as the world wide web are few and far between, senior entrepreneurs have slowly but surely been making themselves a force to be reckoned with, actively contributing to fiscal, social, health, active ageing and lifestyle outcomes in their communities in the process.

The statistics of senior entrepreneurs

A 2017 report, The Silver Economy, commissioned by NBN, found that tech-savvy entrepreneurs (often referred to as SeniorPreneurs) represent the fastest growing sector of entrepreneurship in Australia with just over a third (34%) of all small businesses being led by senior entrepreneurs.

Expected to contribute an additional $11.9 billon to the Australian GDP in new ventures each year, the same report found more than half (54%) of them claim they employ a predominantly online model in their businesses, with 61% of them preferring to upskill online.

While the reasons behind their renaissance were as varied as the business men and women themselves, more than two thirds of the SeniorPreneurs surveyed for the report claim creating or supplementing their income was their main motivation for starting a business.

In addition, 58% admitted launching because they were choosing to pursue passion projects and 55% stated they launched their start-up to keep themselves mentally stimulated.

Other respondents were of the opinion that self-employment helped minimise risk when it came to future employment opportunities. “I think it doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s one of the reasons why I decided to start my own business because when you’re 40-plus people think you’ve got one foot in the coffin.

For some reason people have got this preconceived idea that if you’re under 40 you’re viable to them, if you’re over 40 you’re half dead and they don’t want to employ you … this is another reason why I started my own business, because people don’t discriminate as much when you’re 40-plus when you have your own business,” one noted.

These findings followed an earlier report on the same subject, published two years earlier, which showed a high prevalence of senior entrepreneur activity in Australia.

This was evidenced by the fact the entrepreneurship activity rate of 8% for the age group 55–64 in Australia is approximately 3% above the average of innovation-driven economies.

Titled, Senior Entrepreneurship in Australia – Active Ageing and Extending Working Lives , the 2015 report found senior entrepreneurs work fewer hours per week compared to younger entrepreneurs (18.5 to 23 hours), have more industry experience (13.25 to 7.5 years), invest more in their business ($1,487,000 to $272,000) and earn greater profits ($264,000 to $115,000).

The reason why senior Australians are starting businesses

LaTrobe University Professor of Entrepreneurship, Dr Alex Maritz, who was involved with both studies and who is one of the country’s leading authorities on senior entrepreneurship, says that while entrepreneurs may be pulled or pushed into self-employment, their entrepreneurship is often not just an economic phenomenon; with research showing it helps keep them mentally stimulated and stay physically active while also lifting their self-confidence.

With a lifetime of experience behind them, starting a business as a late-career alternative means active seniors have many advantages over their younger cohorts when it comes to founding and then operating their own businesses.

Dr Maritz says active seniors are more capable of starting a business than their younger peers, are also more productive and have more developed networks.

“They have better business experience, superior technical and managerial skills and are in a stronger financial position than younger entrepreneurs.”

Dr Maritz says tech-savvy boomers also add significant impact to emerging technologies on the creative economy.

“Senior entrepreneurs turn their creativity into business value and growth by starting new businesses in their prime of life.”

Dr Maritz cautioned however, that it wasn’t all smooth sailing for those active seniors wishing to launch their own business, arguing that often they faced the same barriers to entry as younger competitors.

His own research into the topic had shown that the types of concerns voiced by active seniors in regards to launching their own start up included:

• complex administrative procedures and government ‘red tape’,

• attitudes and stereotypes others hold of seniors — ‘ageism’,

• a lack of belief in one’s own capabilities,

• a lack of information on how to start a new business,

• a lack of awareness created by government.

Yet despite this, SeniorPreneurs who were prepared to take the plunge found themselves competing in a world of sectors without borders, he says, and are therefore more active in digital reinvention.

“As digital technologies penetrate industries, boomers are at the forefront to continue its advances by launching new start-ups,” he says.

Original article from Chapter Magazine.

Click below to download the full Chapter Magazine.

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