It’s widely believed that the most successful entrepreneurs are in their 20s and 30s. But recent research by the Harvard Business Review found that the average age of entrepreneurs is 45. Amanda Cassidy speaks to those who went out on their own later in life
Six years ago, Jo Taylor was diagnosed with incurable secondary breast cancer. It is an illness that has an average life expectancy of 2-3 years. The shock of her diagnosis spurred her to take action in her career.
"I'd always had a very entrepreneurial streak but it took my world turning upside-down to really push me forward. I created my website www.abcdiagnosis.co.uk to offer peer-to-peer support to help other patients make informed choices in their treatment. It has been shown to reduce fear, anxiety, and isolation. I have become a breast cancer campaigner and activist, I speak at conferences and recently raised nearly £20,000 for the Christie Hospital in Manchester. Look what you can do, even at 50!"
'If an investor was faced with two entrepreneurs and knew nothing about them besides their age, they would do better, on average, betting on the older one'
Jo also became acutely aware that there were those who wanted help with motivation for exercise after having breast cancer or living with secondary cancer. "It hasn’t stopped me from jogging, cycling, CrossFit, yoga, Nordic walking and I wanted others to experience the benefits that I myself gained from exercise.
"This wasn’t just physically but mentally too. I wanted to show others what they could do so I created a residential retreat and I deliver five of these a year currently for patients. I’m looking to develop these further with a franchising model."
Jo also just launched a second website, www.metupuk.org.uk, an advocacy group aiming to turn metastatic breast cancer into a chronic illness supporting patients, and has published a collection of 'real stories by patients for patients'. "I was written off but I've come back fighting."
Jo is among the growing number of women choosing to start businesses after the age of 40. And research is now showing that life and work experience is a big factor for their success rate. "Middle-aged people take many more bites at the apple," according to the researchers at Harvard Business Review in their latest research paper on the topic.
'I thought you know what... there is more to me than I'm showing the world'
"However, when you look at success rates conditional on actually starting a company, the evidence against youthful entrepreneurial success becomes even sharper. Among those who have started a firm, older entrepreneurs have a substantially higher success rate. Our evidence points to entrepreneurial performance rising sharply with age before cresting in the late fifties."
In short, if an investor was faced with two entrepreneurs and knew nothing about them besides their age, they would do better, on average, betting on the older one.
Irish entrepreneur Samantha Kelly says that when she set up her first business, Funky Goddess, at the age of 40 she found she had skills she didn't realise she possessed. "You forget what talents you have," she tells me when I ask her why she went out on her own later in life. Her current business is the uber-successful Tweeting Goddess, a global network supporting digital communication among businesses.
'The opportunities are there, it is just about being brave enough to take them'
"So many women get started after a life-changing event," explains Samantha. "My marriage had broken up, my dad died and I wanted a better life for my children. I didn't want them to miss out on opportunities because of a lack of finance. I thought you know what... there is more to me than I'm showing the world. I regained my lost confidence."
Does she feel like there are preconceptions that you are over the hill when it comes to starting from scratch over 40?
"I do feel we are not taken seriously by some men because they think 'ah, sure, she's just following her hobby, she's not a real business person'. From my point of view, if you have a demand for your service and good people skills, that's it. It shouldn't matter how old or young you might be."
Web designer Georgie Lake says she finally got the courage to change careers in her 40s. "I'm now in my early 50s and I'm finally, slowly making headway. Ageism isn't some myth and it mainly applies to women. The opportunities are there, it is just about being brave enough to take them."
But what is driving the stereotype of the forty-something who is too risk-averse and lacking in self-confidence to embrace the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship? Christina Ioannidis and Nicola Walters interviewed hundreds of women who left corporate life to become entrepreneurs later in life, for their book, Your Loss.
'There is merit in biding your time'
The reasons are diverse but they managed to narrow them down into four: fulfilment, flexibility, chance to innovate and freedom. The most interesting part is that, in all cases, the women interviewed said that making a positive difference was important to them. They wanted to make money but in ways that aligned with their personal values.
That's certainly what prompted Dubliner Tracey-Jane Cassidy to launch her science education business, Junior Einsteins, which was awarded first prize in the International Virgin Media Business VOOM awards by Richard Branson.
"I wanted to make science more interesting and fun for primary school children. I'm a scientist but I'm also a mum of three and I felt really strongly about opening up this amazing world of how things work for children with their curious minds."
She now has successfully franchised her business both in Ireland and internationally and has been invited to speak at the UN next month in New York about STEM learning at primary level. "My children were small and I just got divorced. I'd had a good few years working in the industry before I started my own business because I knew I'd have to give it my all. Things like patience, life experience and flexibility of mind really stood to me."
So there is merit in biding your time and knowing yourself a little better when it comes to starting a business.
Samantha Kelly says you are also less likely to be distracted by what others are doing. "My advice is to surround yourself with like-minded people and not to be afraid to put yourself out there.
"We are now the influencers and role models for younger girls and women. We need more leaders. We can showcase how it is done. And that is a really important responsibility."
Junior Einsteins Science information here
Tweeting Goddess Samantha Kelly can be found here.