A new study says there is no peak age for entrepreneurship, despite the tech industry’s “romanticised” idea of young founders.
In a bid to identify the traits of successful entrepreneurs, The Founder Institute, a global network of start-ups and mentors, conducted a series of personality and aptitude tests on more than 3,000 applicants worldwide “and then carefully tracked the progress of our nearly 1,000 enrolled founders and 350 graduates.”
The research shows that an older age is a better predictor of entrepreneurial success, while other key traits include strong fluid intelligence, high openness and moderate agreeableness.
“Older age has shown in the data to correlate with more successful entrepreneurs up to the age of 40, after which it has limited or no impact,” says Adeo Ressi, founder of the institute.
“Older individuals have generally completed more complex projects – from buying a house to raising a family.”
“In addition, older people have developed greater vocational skills than their younger counterparts in many, but not all, cases.”
“We theorise that the combination of successful project completion skills with real world experience helps older entrepreneurs identify and address more realistic business opportunities.”
Ressi says there is a commonly held belief that younger founders appear to inspire “waves of innovation” while older entrepreneurs launch sustainable businesses.
“The reality is more complicated. There are older inventors and entrepreneurs… who continue to create revolutionary products and there are, of course, thousands of young entrepreneurs pursuing ‘me too’ businesses,” he says.
Ressi argues age is only one of many factors to predict the success of entrepreneurs, and believes anyone at any age can break the moulds put forward by “experts”.
“However, it’s clear that the stories of a few college-dropout turned millionaire – or billionaire – start-up founders have clouded both the mass media and the tech industry from reality,” he says.
“We have romanticised the idea of a young founder because it’s a great story, but these stories are not the norm. In the end, classic biases of gender, race, and age need to be discarded for a real science of success.”
Ressi provides a definition of what the other key traits of entrepreneurial success, as identified by The Founder Institute:
- Fluid intelligence is a largely genetic trait that measures one’s ability to quickly learn a rule set and apply the learned logic to solve problems.
Entrepreneurs are constantly faced with new problems that need to be understood and solved within minutes. It makes sense that they require fluid intelligence to succeed.
- Openness measures one’s ability to see and appreciate the world around them. It is often synonymous with curiosity, adventure or cultural awareness.
Entrepreneurs, particularly in fast growth start-ups, need to challenge accepted norms, and be open to changes and new information that affect the success of their enterprise.
- Agreeableness measures cooperation versus antagonism. It can be synonymous with compassion, or, conversely, with suspicion.
A moderate level of agreeableness correlates with the ability to stick to a chosen path despite conflicting information and naysayers, allowing an entrepreneur to persevere in the face of obstacles.