Startup Founders May Be Better with Age



Mark Zuckerberg began developing Facebook Inc. while he was still in college. Steve Jobs was 21 when he co-founded Apple Inc.

But new data show the stereotype of young startup founders is out-of-date.

The number of startup founders in their twenties and thirties is declining, while those in their fifties and sixties are rising, according to a report on startup activity by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit think tank focused on entrepreneurship.

According to the report, 24 percent of startup founders are between 20 and 34 years old, a 10 percent decrease from 1996. Meanwhile, people aged 55 to 64 make up 26 percent of new entrepreneurs, up from 15 percent in 1996.

Older entrepreneurs are prevalent in the tech industry, Penny Lee, chief strategy officer of global startup incubator 1776, told Bloomberg BNA.  Mature professionals can bring a base of knowledge and experience to solving complex problems, she said. The average founder’s age in the group’s latest cohort was 40.

But there are also benefits to starting a company at a young age.

Kat Mañalac, a partner at Silicon Valley-based incubator Y Combinator, told Bloomberg BNA that younger entrepreneurs are more accustomed to a lower-cost lifestyle and have fewer personal responsibilities. The average age of founders who have applied to the incubator—which has helped fund companies such as Reddit and Airbnb Inc.—is between 29 and 31 so far this year, she said.

Data on founders’ ages, then, may come into play when crafting policies aimed at promoting entrepreneurship at all ages, Mañalac said.

“It's not impossible, but it's much harder to leave a job with a good salary and benefits for something risky and uncertain when you have kids to take care of,” Mañalac said.

Still, Lee said she’s seen entrepreneurs of all ages.  “When everyone hears tech and startup they instantly think of the 25 year old or 22 year old,” Lee said. “I don’t think that reflects the reality.”