Why middle-aged Australians are embracing entrepreneurship

The general public associates entrepreneurship with fresh-faced whiz kids. In reality, most people launching businesses are at least in their forties.

It’s widely believed entrepreneurship is a young person’s game. This is not entirely wrong – the likes of Richard Branson, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg all launched businesses while still on the right side of 25. Someone starting a business in their late teens and becoming a billionaire by the time they turn 21 makes for a great story but it’s an exceedingly rare occurrence. Research shows that when it comes to entrepreneurship, people over 55 are twice as likely as people under 35 to launch a high-growth startup.

More and more fiftysomethings and sixtysomethings are becoming ‘seniorpreneurs’. They are creating a job for themselves rather than hoping to convince a 23-year-old recruitment consultant to recommend them for one.    

Why age and guile beat youth and enthusiasm

Young and older business owners aren’t in competition. Nonetheless, given the ageist stereotypes, it’s worth pointing out why older individuals are well placed to start businesses:

  • They have had time to develop impressive technical and managerial skills
  • They have had enough work and life experience to reach a deep understanding of how the world works and how humans behave
  • They probably have access to capital
  • They have had time to build a network of valuable contacts

A 2015 Swinburne University of Technology and Queensland University of Technology study found that 34 per cent of all young firms in Australia were headed up by seniorpreneurs. What’s more, the average age of those seniorpreneurs was 57. The study found seniorpreneurs, on average, invested $1.2 million more in their businesses than their younger counterparts and generated twice the profits.   

A nation of seniorpreneurs

Dr Alex Maritz is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at La Trobe University. He’s also a long-time observer and supporter of seniorpreneurship (though he finds the term cringeworthy). He points out that, compared to similar nations, Australia’s over-50s are impressively entrepreneurial but tend to start lifestyle businesses. “Australia ranks highly among developed nations for entrepreneurial activity,” Maritz says. “That noted, older Australians typically start businesses because they want to be their own boss and have control over their schedule. They usually don’t have ambitions to create the next Amazon.”


While some of Australia’s seniorpreneurs have launched and run businesses in their younger years, Maritz says around two-thirds of them are newbies. While Maritz is keen to encourage individuals of all ages to consider starting a business, he warns not everyone is cut out for it.


“There’s often an assumption that if someone has experience managing people or managing budgets that starting a business will be straightforward,” he says. “But entrepreneurship is about managing opportunities. No matter how much experience you have working for someone else, you’re going to have to quickly learn a lot of new skills if you want to launch and operate a business.”

“Launching my own business gave me a new lease on life. I feel so young; I’m shocked when I look in the mirror.”

A midlife rebirth

In her late forties, Melbourne-based beauty editor Carolyn Palliardi suffered a run of life-altering misfortunes. Her husband died. Her mother fell ill. Then her job disappeared.


“I was at a loss after being retrenched,” Palliardi recalls. “With the media industry contracting it was obvious I couldn’t continue in my old occupation. I thought about moving into a related field, such as PR. But I couldn’t see how I could raise two young children and care for my mother while working long hours in a full-time job.”


Palliardi had never thought about launching a business. Then her son began using deodorant. “I discovered there were no chemical-free deodorants for teenage boys,” she says. “I realised I had all this product knowledge and a useful network of contacts because of my previous life as a beauty journalist.”     


After Palliardi’s mother passed away she used part of the inheritance she received to launch a natural skincare business called 808 Dude. That was back in 2011 when Palliardi was 51. “There have been lots of challenges,” she says. “It took a long time to start breaking even, let alone turn a decent profit. My income can still fluctuate dramatically month to month. While it’s good being able to make all the decisions, it can also feel overwhelming at times. I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills, including in areas I have no interest in, such as bookkeeping.”

 

Nonetheless, Palliardi says starting a business has given her a new lease on life. “I feel so young; I’m shocked when I look in the mirror,” she says. “Being self-employed isn’t for everybody. But it’s an option to consider once you reach the age where employers begin to lose interest.”  


Although launching a business has been rewarding for Palladin, it has not been without its fair share of challenges and risks. Having the right insurance in place is important for all business owners but it’s crucial for those who don’t have lots of time to recover from a major setback, Palliardi notes. “I made sure I had public and product liability policies when launching my business,” she says. “I’ve also got plenty of personal insurance. I believe that is a good investment given I’m the main driver of my business and its revenue will soon dry up if I’m unable to work for some reason. Thankfully, I’m in good shape but I’m aware I’m at much higher risk of suffering from a health issue than someone in their thirties or forties.”


Whatever your age, starting a business that can potentially be robbed, burnt down, sued or hacked by cybercriminals is a risky endeavour. With many different business insurance options for start-ups and small businesses it’s important to get the right advice on what level of cover is appropriate for your situation. If you’d like to discuss policies that cover you in the event of a misfortune, a Steadfast insurance broker will be happy to speak with you.


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