The successful entrepreneur is not who you think
While the typical entrepreneur might be a young tech-savvy individual, the successful entrepreneur is more likely to be a mature midlife person.
The typical entrepreneur is often portrayed as a young, innovative, and technologically savvy individual.
However, according to Wharton professor J. Daniel Kim, reality looks different. The successful entrepreneur is more often a mature individual. Kim's research shows that the average age of entrepreneurs who succeed with their start-ups is significantly higher than many would assume, usually in mid-life.
Arianna Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post, a popular online news platform, in 2005 when she was 55 years old. Chip Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, in 1998 when he was 42 years old. Chip Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, in 1998 when he was 42 years old. Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in 1962 when he was 44 years old. The examples show that age is not a barrier to success in business, but rather a possible advantage. They are not alone.
Statistics from SSB (Statistics Norway) show that in 2020, there were 15,960 entrepreneurs in the age group 45-66 years, which constitutes a significant proportion of all new business owners. This underscores that a significant number of new businesses are started by individuals in this age group.
J. Daniel Kim and other studies indicate that people who start a company after the age of 50 are much more likely to succeed with a new product or service in the market. In addition, a study published by the American Economic Association and reproduced in Forskning.no (Research.no) shows that the average age among founders of the most successful companies was 45 years, even within high-tech sectors. Furthermore, the researchers found that people over 50 are three times more likely to introduce an innovation in the market compared with the average in the study's sample, and they also earn more money from their innovations.
The authors of a Harvard Business Review article posed an interesting question. But what about the most successful start-ups? Is it possible that companies started by younger entrepreneurs are particularly successful? Among the top 0.1% of start-ups based on growth in the first five years, we find that the founders started their companies at an average age of 45.
In summary, these findings suggest that we need to revise our understanding of entrepreneurship and who succeeds. Older entrepreneurs bring a range of advantages, such as depth of business understanding, experience, an established professional network, financial stability, and resilience that can only be cultivated over time.
By recognizing and leveraging these strengths, Norway, and other countries, by adapting their entrepreneurial measures, can create a more inclusive and diverse ecosystem for start-ups, which in turn can drive innovation and economic growth in the transition to a digital economy. It is high time we recognized that successful entrepreneurs come from all ages and backgrounds.
- Tor W. Andreassen is Professor of Innovation at the Norwegian School of Economics
- Line Lervik-Olsen is a Professor of Marketing at BI The Norwegian Business School & NHH
- Seidali Kurtmollaiev is an Associate Professor at Kristiania College & NHH
All are affiliated with The Innovation Index Coalition and the DIG research center.