Entrepreneurship is not just a young person’s game

22 Feb 2017

Image: Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

Prof Brian MacCraith outlines why Ireland’s ageing population is a business opportunity not to be missed.

When he founded IBM, Charles Flint was 61 years of age, an age many consider close to retirement.

While there is a perception that entrepreneurship is a young person’s game, the reality is rather different.

Senior entrepreneurs are playing an increasingly important role in Ireland’s business world. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor published in 2014, 4.6pc of people aged between 55 and 64 are early-stage entrepreneurs, a figure that has risen by more than 50pc in the past 20 years.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Founders of two of the world’s biggest multinationals, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, were over 50 years of age when they established their businesses. In Ireland, successful older entrepreneur Peter Cullen founded Aran Candy in 1997 at the age of 50, and sold a majority stake to a Swedish confectionery firm in a deal valued at €15.5m in 2014.

‘Worldwide data shows that people are at their most entrepreneurial between 50 and 64’

Ageing society

In 2011, Ireland had the highest proportion of young people (21.3pc) in the EU and the lowest proportion of older people (11.7pc). This will change significantly over the next 25 years, however, when the number of people aged over 65 years will be between 1.3m and 1.4m compared with 460,000 in 2006.

The increase in life expectancy, together with the reduction in the relative size of the working population, means that demographic ageing has become one of the key issues facing policymakers.

Delivering real benefits

Worldwide data shows that people are at their most entrepreneurial between 50 and 64. They are better educated and in better health than previous generations. They want to live independently, continue to contribute to their communities and enjoy their later lives.

Another interesting dimension is that people at a certain stage in life tend to get more focused on life with purpose and on what they can give back, so social entrepreneurship can become an attractive option.

‘Mature entrepreneurs are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth start-ups as 20-24 year olds’

Mature entrepreneurs are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth start-ups as 20-24 year olds. Compared to their younger counterparts, mature entrepreneurs can offer many potential benefits for individuals and the wider economy. They have in-depth industry knowledge that can help to identify gaps in the market and establish a new venture successfully. They have more established professional networks, which can greatly assist in establishing viable business relations during start-up and growth.

Additionally, many senior entrepreneurs have more time. Some are eager to return to the business world following retirement or an exit from a previous venture. Others simply have more time once their family has been reared.

Mature entrepreneurs also tend to be in financially stronger positions and, therefore, have greater access to capital. This can be because they no longer have dependents in the household, or that they have paid off their mortgage and/or have accumulated savings throughout their working career.

Ireland’s opportunity

Ireland has been focused on implementing a number of policies to ensure an efficient engagement of their economy with the older generation. One strategy to reach these goals is the Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange (ISAX), an independent network set up to fast-track the R&D and commercialisation of solutions for the global smart ageing economy.

Ageing is a business opportunity for Ireland. Collaboration to create a positive awareness of entrepreneurship as a late career option is necessary. In that vein, ISAX and the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs have designed a programme for mature entrepreneurs who are hoping to take their skills, experience and ambition to the next level.

Ingenuity is designed to refresh business management knowledge, and identify market growth opportunities and investment readiness. It will discuss concepts and strategies on sustaining growth in a changing economy through modules that will draw on themes of innovation, scaling up and sustainable growth. Participants will also have an opportunity to pitch to an audience of potential investors.

By Prof Brian MacCraith

Prof Brian MacCraith is the president of Dublin City University and a board member of ISAX.

The ISAX Ingenuity start-up accelerator, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, runs from 24 March to 26 May. The programme will be delivered by the DCU Ryan Academy and is open to entrepreneurs aged 50-plus who are less than 5 years in business and have fewer than 10 employees. It has been designed to specifically address the challenges facing business owners as they plan to scale their business. Apply here before 10 March 2017.