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Breaking the stereotype: Wade Institute’s Startup Sprint shows success in startups is not about age, it’s about confidence

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Georgia McDonald, managing director of the Wade Institute. Source: Supplied.

Georgia McDonald, managing director of the Wade Institute. Source: Supplied.

For startup founders, a little life experience can go a long way, according to Georgia McDonald​, general manager of the Wade Institute, the University of Melbourne’s school of entrepreneurship.

Last weekend, The Wade Institute welcomed its latest cohort into to three-day Startup Sprint bootcamp, and while some of the participants were university students, the program also focused on diversity.

The bootcamp hosted 40 people of different academic backgrounds, nationalities, genders and age, and had “entrepreneurship education at its core”, McDonald says.

The weekend focuses on a “theoretical framework”and the skills attendees are likely to need as entrepreneurs, such as teamwork, people management, and thinking outside of the box.

It’s not about the ideas the teams come up with, McDonald says, “it’s about the execution”.

“This isn’t a contest of ideas. It’s about giving people the skills to validate whether that’s worth taking the next step of or not.”

There’s a focus on getting a handful of people in who are not students, or university aged, but who are looking to learn something new.

Some are lawyers or bankers, trying to get a deeper understanding of their startup clients, McDonald says, but others are working parents looking to strike out in their own but with “no way of knowing what you do once you’ve had an idea”.

Rather than the 20-something stereotype, research suggests the average successful startup founder is around 40 to 45 years old. It’s not just university students and young people innovating, McDonald says.

Entrepreneurs with experience working in previous careers may have a “particular industry insight,” she says.

“They’re aware of some of the problems,” she adds, and may be able to tackle a “bigger, juicer problem”.

Experience is also valuable when it comes to maintaining relationships, McDonald says. People skills can be key in avoiding “team disharmony and founder disputes”.

“If you’ve worked in teams you have a bit more experience of managing people and working with people,” she says.

There’s also an element of perspective, and bringing the knowledge that a setback is not the end of the world.

“You get older, you’ve probably had a few more losses, knockbacks and things,” says McDonald.

And finally, for some there’s the added possibility of a family to think about, which, while it piles on the pressure, it “can also make it more meaningful, as well.”

There’s “such a typecast” of an entrepreneur, says McDonald, but there’s no right time, or right person, to do it. It’s more about the attitude they have.

“People can and do make it work at any point in their life … it’s the attitude and belief that they can make it work,” she says.

Even for the corporate participants — the lawyers and bankers trying to get an insight into their entrepreneurial clients — although McDonald stresses the institute is not trying to convert them to a startup way of life, “sometimes it lights a flame”.

“In Australia, that can only be a good thing,” she says.

There’s no harm in “having some more enterprising skills,” she adds.

“It can be hard to wean people off the idea of this good corporate gig, but we know that economy is changing.”

Ultimately, McDonald says, succeeding as an entrepreneur is not about your age, or whether you have a mortgage and kids or not; it’s about having the internal drive and the confidence to succeed.

Her number one tip for aspiring founders is simply to have confidence in their abilities — although she admits it’s easier said than done.

Of the 40 participants in this Startup Sprint cohort, 22 had never started their own business or worked at a startup.

“So much is about confidence building,” McDonald says.

“If you show people what they can do in a weekend, they might continue with their ideas, they might come up with new ones.”

“It’s not about cockiness,” she adds. “It’s having an inner belief in your capability to keep working through.”

NOW READ: How Envato’s apprenticeship scheme is tackling the tech talent shortage and promoting diversity all at once

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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