Older entrepreneurs are leading the way in tech breakthroughs

In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, a notable shift has emerged: the rise of entrepreneurs over the age of 50. This demographic, often overlooked in the youth-centric tech industry, is proving to be a formidable force, bringing a wealth of experience, resilience, and innovation to the startup ecosystem.

Contrary to the common perception that entrepreneurship is dominated by young founders, studies have revealed a positive correlation between age and entrepreneurial success. A study published in July 2023 found that those who start a business later on in life (aged 50 or above) are more likely to bring radical innovations to the market than younger business owners, which flips the perception on its head that youth is where innovation lies. The study also found that, for every 10 more years of age, it actually increases a founder’s likelihood to introduce a market novelty by up to 30%.

The underlying factors for these results include the advantages older founders possess, such as extensive managerial experience and personal financial resources, when establishing their companies. Additionally, individuals transitioning from salaried positions to entrepreneurship at a later stage are more likely to recruit employees with higher education levels as they are less likely to feel threatened by their levels of skill and expertise. This combination of elements alters the motivations and capabilities of these entrepreneurs in fostering innovation, enabling older founders to introduce groundbreaking products or services that have a transformative impact on the market.

According to Small Biz Trends statistics in 2021, people between the ages of 50 and 59 were at the top of the startup founders list with 35%. One-fourth were between 40 and 49 years, while those aged 60-69 comprised 18%.

In a survey of 2,600 entrepreneurs in the US, 42% of entrepreneurs over 50 said they started their businesses to pursue their passion, 36% said “opportunities were presented to them,” 22% said they are dissatisfied with their work, and 15% started their businesses after losing their jobs.

According to Medium, older startup founders are 1.7 times more likely to find a startup that ends up in the top 0.1% of all companies, which proves that experience matters. 

That’s not to say young entrepreneurs are lacking on the innovation front. The Murmann et al study revealed that younger founders introduce a larger number of innovations overall, but these are more common in business and focus on improving processes and product offerings of a particular company, such as software solutions to cut costs and make an existing product more user-friendly.

So why are there more and more older founders?

A contributor to the rising statistic was COVID-19. COVID-19 destroyed jobs on a scale forcing an explosion of entrepreneurs out of need and opportunity. Not only this, but the time spent sitting at home meant people had time to step back and consider what they wanted from their careers. For many, the time spent looking at their career objectively, meant that they realised they weren’t happy with where they were at, and wanted to make matters into their own hands.

The challenges

Despite their many strengths, entrepreneurs over the age of 50 face unique challenges on top of the usual challenges that founders face:

  • Age Bias: The tech industry is known for its youth-oriented culture, and can be less receptive to older entrepreneurs. Overcoming this bias involves showcasing their experience as a valuable asset.
  • Technology Adaptation: Keeping up with rapidly evolving technology is vital. Continuous learning and adaptability are key strategies employed by these entrepreneurs.
  • Work-Life Integration: Many in this age group balance entrepreneurship with other life commitments. Effective time management and prioritising become crucial skills.

Success stories

There are plenty of older entrepreneurs who have paved the way for a more accepting future when it comes to age diversity.

Fredrik Glasser – Glasser was 88 when he co-founded CCM (Carbon Capture Machine). CCM develops carbon dioxide capturing technology7. It aims to convert harmful fossil fuel emissions into carbon-negative, high-value byproducts.

Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles - When the duo co-founded Graphcore, Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles were aged 52 and 54, respectively. Toon and Knowles see a future where AI brings everyone into a new era of democratised intelligence. Therefore, they created Graphcore’s Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) which is optimised for machine learning tasks.

Anne Boden and Mark Winlow - Starling Bank, the unicorn fintech company, was founded by Anne Boden, at the age of 55, alongside Mark Winlow, at 51. Identifying how technology could transform the way people manage their money in a way that traditional banks hadn’t, Boden and Winlow created what is now one of the UK’s leading challenger banks.

Gabi Szbadi – Szbadi, a 66-year-old entrepreneur, wanted to resolve the high number of accidents that occur on large-scale construction projects. His tech startup iOTProximity leverages the abilities of AI smart cameras, sensor fusion, lidar/radar and electromagnetism to create 360-degree virtual safety barriers around job sites.

The Road Ahead

The rise of over-50 entrepreneurs is reshaping the startup ecosystem. Their contributions are a testament to the fact that entrepreneurship is not confined to a specific age group but can be accessible and achievable at any stage of life. This trend highlights the value of diversity in age and experience in fostering innovation and growth in the business world.

As this demographic continues to grow and the population continues to age, it’s essential for the ecosystem to evolve, offering tailored support and resources to these entrepreneurs. Their success not only enriches the business community but also serves as an inspiring reminder of the endless possibilities at any age.