Age is no barrier: At 66, this entrepreneur founded a startup to tackle global pollution

Paul Tasner

The transition of PulpWorks co-founder and chief executive Paul Tasner from employee to entrepreneur at the age of 66 shows age should be no barrier when it comes to taking a different path.

During a TED Talk filmed earlier this year, Tasner recalled how at the age of 64 he was fired from his position as director of operations at a consumer products company in San Francisco, ending over 40 years of employment with various companies.

As an engineer in manufacturing and packaging, over the next couple of years Tasner began consulting “without any passion whatsoever”, before “an idea began to take root”.

“I wanted to build my own business, designing and manufacturing biodegradable packaging from waste — paper, agricultural, even textile waste — replacing the toxic, disposable plastic packaging to which we’ve all become addicted,” he said.

“This is called clean technology, and it felt really meaningful to me.”

So at the age of 66, Tasner “became an entrepreneur for the very first time”.

Tasner said he encountered all of the common issues that startups face while living and working in San Francisco: “You are typically going to compete with some very young people from the high-tech industry, and it can be very discouraging and intimidating”.

“But five years later, I’m thrilled and proud to share with you that our revenues have doubled every year, we have no debt, we have several marquee clients, our patent was issued, I have a wonderful partner who’s been with me right from the beginning, and we’ve won more than 20 awards for the work that we’ve done,” he said.

“But best of all, we’ve made a small dent — a very small dent — in the worldwide plastic pollution crisis.”

Tasner described it as “the most rewarding and meaningful work” of his life.

Connecting first-time senior entrepreneurs

While there are many resources available for entrepreneurs, Tasner said he started with a desire to meet other first-time entrepreneurs that were his age. He is now keen to see a greater focus on seniors who follow a similar path, so that they might connect and build a community.

He observed cultural expectations dictate that there are certain activities that seniors should be embarking on. However he is also “passionate about doing something meaningful in the global marketplace”.

“So when I say, ‘let’s start talking more about these wonderful entrepreneurs’, I mean, let’s talk about their ventures, just as we do the ventures of their much younger counterparts,” he said.

Tasner pointed to figures from UK-based group CMI showing older entrepreneurs in the US have a 70% success rate starting new ventures, as compared to 28% for younger entrepreneurs.

“Aren’t the accomplishments of a 70-year-old entrepreneur every bit as meaningful, every bit as newsworthy, as the accomplishments of a 30-year-old entrepreneur?” he asked.

“Of course they are. That’s why I’d like to make the phrase ’70 over 70′ just as … commonplace as the phrase ’30 under 30′.”

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