Guest Column: Don’t let age keep you from starting a business

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Guest Column by Dean Swanson

Dean Swanson


I had a wonderful question from an aspiring new small business CEO this week! “Am I foolish to think of starting a business later in life?” she asked. Great question, I told her, let’s talk.

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I and my SCORE mentor colleagues see this situation more and more these days. And I think the concern comes from a common experience where we’re taught to think or at least lead to believe that entrepreneurship is entirely the province of the young and the restless. But the history of business actually favors founders who started later in life. Without these “silverpreneurs,” hits like GEICO, KFC and LinkedIn would never have existed.  There’s no reason to think that you can’t be one of them.

After my conversation with this future CEO, I went back to my resources to dig out a blog that I remember from a couple of years ago that was written by Meredith Wood. I enjoy reading her stuff. She is the editor-in-chief at Fundera. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade, and is sought out frequently for her expertise in small business lending. Meredith’s advice has appeared in the SBA, SCORE, Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, American Banker, Small Business Trends and more.

In that 2017 blog, she made some great points about this topic. Here is what she reminded us as she pointed out reasons why age shouldn’t stop you from launching your business.


1. There’s no substitute for experience.

The wunderkind vision of the fresh-faced entrepreneur going from dorm room to billion-dollar IPO doesn’t leave a lot of room for the bumps and scrapes that supposedly teach us about how the real-world works.

Entrepreneurs who start later in life have an obvious advantage: more experience and thicker skin. Part of the value of spending a decade or two in the workforce is that it gives you the opportunity to witness and experience both success and failure. A familiarity with failure makes setbacks feel less like the end of the world and more like obstacles to be overcome.

It’s also worth noting that some types of intelligence peak later than others. David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago, has identified a split between conceptual geniuses, who tend to do their best work early, and experimental geniuses, who take a longer and twistier road to peak performance.


2. Networks grow with time.

Another huge advantage that “silverpreneurs” have is their networks. While their younger counterparts might have to be discovered by an investor or rely on a mentor for their first leg up, people who start small businesses later in life benefit from the connections they’ve made in their careers up to that point.

Older entrepreneurs have a solid sense of the business landscape and know where to look for suppliers, customers, partners and employees. Even indirect contacts can be useful leads to find sources of funding or revenue. Reputations take time to build, and a strong network of long-term business connections can be a lot more useful than the endorsement of a single VC.

And older entrepreneurs also have a significantly easier time qualifying for small business loans. With more robust credit histories and well-documented track records, they’re attractive to small business lenders. Younger entrepreneurs are often burdened by student loans and lack the paper trail to qualify for favorable loan terms, limiting their options. This gives older entrepreneurs the flexibility to choose a financing option that fits their business well.


3. Stability is a solid foundation.

Finally, people starting businesses later on reap some important time-of-life benefits. These vary from person to person, but if they line up, they can make a real difference.

If you’re starting a business in your early 40s or later, you’re less likely to have to juggle the pressures of a young family against those of a new business. Marriage, homebuying, pregnancy, maternity/paternity leave and raising young children are all easier to do with a steady paycheck (and without the divided focus that nurturing a new business implies). It can be substantially easier to create a business when your personal life is on more stable footing.

Another interesting benefit to starting later is that you’re less likely to make yourself a choke point for work and information. It’s one thing to pull all-nighters and sleep at the office four days a week when you’re 23 and nobody’s waiting up for you. It’s another when you’ve got responsibilities. When you can’t sideline your other commitments at the drop of a hat, you have to make longer-term strategic decisions about workflow, delegation and hiring.

I love Wood’s closer when she says, “Teach those kids a thing or two. There are risks to starting a business at any age, but the real tragedy would be to count yourself out before you even try. Remember that even if you don’t have youth on your side, you have plenty going for you if you do decide to launch your business. It’s only a young person’s game if you leave it to the young people.”


Dean Swanson is a volunteer certified SCORE mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the northwest region.