The Good Life:
The golden age of entrepreneurship
If asked to describe a modern entrepreneur, most people will likely jump to the image of a 20-something founder of a highgrowth tech start-up. This stereotype is fuelled by the stories underpinning a number of the world’s best-known companies. Endless front-page media coverage, alongside Hollywood’s focus on highlighting the success of phenomena like Facebook and Snapchat, reinforce the assumption that youth is the secret to success.
The huge amount of media time given to profiling successful young tech entrepreneurs, alongside the media profiles built around the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, have created a public perception that all start-ups are tech start-ups and are solely the preserve of the young. But this perception is wrongly founded, and, given the inevitable changes to the jobs landscape that are expected over the next few decades,largely unhelpful.
While youth may be an obvious part of the Silicon Valley story, it is hardly the common thread connecting the majority of business founders across the UK. The high profile experiences of young millionaires are only part of the story and entrepreneurship is not reliant on (nor limited to) tech.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that, not only has entrepreneurship been dominated historically by more established business figures, but the next few decades will see the age of the average entrepreneur drift ever higher. Shifting sands within the UK labour market have been well documented. An ageing population, alongside increasing levels of automation and technological change, are posing serious questions about how we maintain a thriving and agile workforce over coming decades.
Entrepreneurship has also never been a route just available to the young. In fact, a growing number of people over 50 are joining the startup community, many capitalising on the skills and experience they have accrued over long careers in order to start a successful business.
The Institute of Directors (IOD) stands out as an example of where facts depart from fiction when it comes to entrepreneurship. A recent survey showed that 53% of IOD members define themselves as either an entrepreneur or company founder. In addition, 67 per cent of members are above the age of 50.
For those facing the prospect of retirement or leaving lifelong employment, starting a business can also be a great way to continue engaging with work. It may not be everyone’s first choice for retirement, but it can keep an individual busy, stimulated and in some cases physically and socially active.
For some, it may also be a decision taken out of necessity, such as the requirement for a supplementary income.
Additionally, business acumen will tend to improve with age, allowing founders to better understand industry nuances, and to utilise networks and skills built over their working lives.
An IOD survey showed that 86 per cent of members currently work in a field that is related to previous experience. Ultimately, there is rarely a substitute for experience, particularly in complex industries.
Demographics have also changed over time. When the state pension was first introduced, it adequately reflected the realities of the time. Today it does not, with life-spans expanding and the need for supplementary retirement income becoming more apparent.
Politicians and business leaders alike are now beginning to search for how to address the political and economic implications of these huge challenges.
There has already been some political movement when it comes to contemporising the basic state pension age. When it was introduced in 1948, overall lifeexpectancy was 66 years for men, and 70 for women. At that time, the basic state pension age was 65 for men and 60 for women.
Nowadays, with modern life expectancy so much higher, the cost of the programme has increased far beyond what was envisaged by its original architects. To partially address this, policy makers have decided to increase the retirement age to 66 from 2020 before raising it again to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
This is a problem looking for solutions and in need of more public debate, but what it does mean is that, more than ever, older people are in a good position to start businesses.