The Silverpreneurs: Unveiling the Value of Older Entrepreneurs in the US Economy

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What’s the Silverpreneur Secret Sauce of Success?

There is an epic mythology built around the hotshot young men of Silicon Valley who are founders and grab vast amounts of VC money to become overnight Billionaires. Off the top of your head, you can think of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs as great success stories. However, the facts around true success differ; older entrepreneurs are more successful.

While innovation and creativity are celebrated in the entrepreneurial world, there’s a segment of entrepreneurs whose contributions often go ignored: older entrepreneurs. These seasoned individuals, Silverpreneurs or encore entrepreneurs, are rewriting the narrative of entrepreneurship by bringing a wealth of experience, wisdom, and resilience to the table. As the population ages and demographics shift, the value Silverpreneurs bring to the US economy becomes increasingly evident. The average age of the most successful entrepreneurs in the United States, measured by growth and business acquisition, is about 45 (Pierre Azoulay et al., 2020). According to the same study, a 50-year-old founder is approximately twice as likely to have their startup acquired or IPO than a founder at age 30, based on Azoulay’s analysis of 2.7 million founders.

In the past, entrepreneurship was never a young person’s game. Looking at history, you can point to the great innovators like Henry Ford, who invented the revolutionary Model T car in 1908, or Ray Kroc, who was 52 when he bought McDonald’s in 1954 and grew it into the world’s biggest fast-food franchise. In the modern day, there are plenty of older entrepreneurs who have made huge impacts, disrupting industries and ideas – Zagat published its first collection of restaurant reviews in 1979, when Tim and Nina Zagat were both 51 years old, at 50, Leo Goodwin founded Geico Insurance at 50, Arianna Huffington launched The Huffington Post at 55, Julie Wainwright founded her fashion company, The RealReal, when she was in her mid-50s, Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields were 44 and 46 when they founded skincare company Rodan + Fields, Eric Yuan founded Zoom at the age of 41 the list goes on.

Older entrepreneurs are a significant and growing demographic in the entrepreneurial ecosystem both in the US and Europe. Factors contributing to this segment’s growth include:

  1. Aging Boomers and Xers have “aged out of corporate careers due to ageism.
  2. Longer life expectancy and increased health.
  3. Changing attitudes towards retirement and the desire for personal fulfillment and financial security.
  4. The ability to create value and be a part of the creator economy.
  5. Founding your own business that allows for remote work makes it even more enticing.

It is excellent for the economy!

With a combined 41%+ of the population of Boomers and Xers, older entrepreneurs continue to contribute positively to the economy as they defer claiming Social Security and other pensions compared with their counterparts who retire earlier and stop contributing.

The entrepreneurial demographic is changing! 

Over 60% of entrepreneurs in 1996 were under 44, with the majority under 34. Fast Forward to 2021, and we see those starting ventures in the US across all age ranges, with the most significant growth coming from entrepreneurs over 55. The Silverpreneur segment grew from 14.8% to 22.8% and will expand as younger Boomers and older Xers age out of the corporate workforce. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, entrepreneurs aged 55 to 64 accounted for 26.8% of new entrepreneurs in 2020, a figure that has been steadily increasing over the past four years.

Silverpreneurs prove to be more innovative and successful than their younger counterparts.

Let’s stop the lie that older people have old ideas and need to be more creative and innovative. The numbers speak to a very different reality. According to an article by Virva Salmivaara, Assistant professor in business administration and entrepreneurship, Audencia, based on a study with 2,900 founders of new ventures in Germany in 2008–2017, a founder’s probability of introducing a market novelty increases by 30% for every ten years of age. Silverpreneurs who are highly innovation-oriented and managerially experienced are more than 3X more likely to introduce market novelties than the sample average. For every additional decade, revenue from innovations will increase by 35,000 euros per year, or about 26% more than the sample average.

What’s the Silverpreneur Secret Sauce of Success?

The most significant difference contributing to the success of older entrepreneurs is their wealth of experience and expertise and, in many cases, advanced education. After years spent honing their skills in various industries, older entrepreneurs start ventures with an invaluable depth of knowledge, insights, and education. Their extensive professional networks, built over decades of work, are often instrumental in accessing resources, forging partnerships, and securing funding for their ventures. Their experience also prepares them for future challenges by enabling them to make confident decisions and effectively navigate market dynamics and consumer behavior.

Seasoned entrepreneurs bring a unique perspective to the entrepreneurial landscape. Having witnessed numerous economic cycles and technological advancements, they possess a long-term outlook and a pragmatic approach to business – and are uniquely prepared to confront these. This seasoned perspective often translates into greater resilience and adaptability, enabling them to weather uncertainties and the ability to pivot effectively when necessary. Their life experiences equip them with a keen understanding of customer needs, allowing them to create products and services that resonate with customers of all ages.

Although ageism is pervasive in most US business cultures, older entrepreneurs’ value in fostering intergenerational knowledge transfer and mentorship within the entrepreneurial community is invaluable. Ageism negates the passing of this valuable information.

Ways in which Silverpreneurs add value to the ecosystem and the economy.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem is full of aspiring entrepreneurs. Many seasoned professionals choose to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs, sharing their insights, lessons learned, and practical advice gleaned from years of experience. By passing down their wisdom and nurturing the next generation of innovators, they contribute to the continuity and sustainability of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

From a macroeconomic standpoint, the contributions of older entrepreneurs to the US economy are substantial and multifaceted. As a result, they create jobs, drive innovation, and stimulate economic growth. Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor indicates that older entrepreneurs are likelier to start businesses with paid employees, contributing to job creation and reducing unemployment rates. Moreover, their ventures often focus on niche markets or emerging industries, fostering innovation and market competition.

Additionally, older entrepreneurs contribute to the tax base through their business activities, bolstering government revenues and supporting public services and infrastructure. Furthermore, their entrepreneurial endeavors contribute to the diversification and resilience of the economy by reducing reliance on traditional employment and corporate structures.

It is time to eradicate ageism and acknowledge and work with Silverpreneurs.

When looking at the positive impacts that Silverpreneurs are making, you can see that ageism is not good business. Older entrepreneurs are a valuable and increasingly influential force in the US economy. Their wealth of experience, unique perspective, and entrepreneurial spirit enrich the entrepreneurial ecosystem, driving innovation, creating jobs, and fostering economic growth. As demographics continue to shift and populations age, harnessing the potential of older entrepreneurs will be essential for ensuring a vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial landscape that benefits society.

Related content: 

Empowering Latino Entrepreneurs in the World of Venture Capital

The Integral Role of Latina Entrepreneurs In the Economy & Culture

Entrepreneurs Could Use “Hygge” a Danish State of Mind


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