The benefits of connecting young and old(er) entrepreneurs

By Eric Grimstead

You’re never too young, or old, to start your first business.

Young entrepreneurs often make headlines with spectacular growth stories of starting billion dollar companies from a dorm room or garage.

What might come as a surprise is that the share of new entrepreneurs in the 20-34 age group has actually declined over the past 20 years. In 1996 this age group accounted for 34.3% of new entrepreneurs. By 2017 that percentage had dropped to 25.5%.

Older entrepreneurs, those between the ages of 55-64, are now the leading new entrepreneurial group. This group accounted for only 14.8% of new business starts in 1996. By 2017 that share had grown to 26% according to the Kaufman Foundation’s 2017 National Report on Early Stage Entrepreneurship.

As this month’s issue focuses on celebrating the Top 7 Under 40 Young Professionals, I wanted to highlight the importance of intergenerational entrepreneurship. Because diversity in age, thought and experience can help produce a rich creative environment that leads to business growth.

Here are a few ways that these different generations can help one another.

Access to Capital: Older entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business after retiring may be able to bring personal capital to a new business venture. They may also be risk averse to putting all their retirement assets in to a new venture. Younger entrepreneurs may be saddled with student debt and lack the types of collateral required for a traditional start-up loan. What they lack in terms of investable cash can be made up for with their creativity, risk tolerance and willingness to embrace technology platforms like Kickstarter to bootstrap a venture. Both can learn from each other to discover the best route to securing the proper amount of capital to get started.

Social Networks: Many communities across the country are encouraging entrepreneurship by supporting incubators, accelerators and business plan competitions. Each represent opportunities for older and younger entrepreneurs to meet up and learn from one another. They may also represent partnership opportunities. While older entrepreneurs may have a deep bench of experience to draw upon from their past careers, younger entrepreneurs may have an incredibly wide and diverse network of their own peers to connect with. This breadth of experience may shed more light on what is truly possible on the path to profitability.

Changing Views of Traditional Work: The three generations that make up the workforce right now are Baby Boomers (ages 55-73), Gen X’ers (ages 39-54) and Millennials (ages 23-38). Each generation, generally speaking, has different views of what work should look like and what they value in a career. A Baby Boomer who has retired from a 9-5 corporate grind, rebooted and become an entrepreneur may have difficulty understanding why a Millennial employee, or business partner, thinks they should have a flexible work schedule. Rather than being criticized and marginalized perhaps the Millennials should be celebrated for showing the older generations in the workforce that work/ life balance is important and thanks to advances in technology you literally can work from anywhere, at any time. As long as the work gets done, does it really matter if that is in an office cubicle or on a beach? Just as boomers may be dissatisfied with the traditional view of retirement, younger professionals may be equally disinterested in business as usual and a 9-to-5 gig.

Life is a short trip after all, which reminds me of a song from my youth…

“It’s so hard to get old without a cause, I don’t want to perish like a fading horse, youth’s like diamonds in the sun…and diamonds are forever.” Alphaville, 1984

Cheers to the Top 7 Under 40 finalists, and all business owners, may your approach to life and business stay forever young!


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