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FEATURE

FOUNDERS OVER 50

STEP ASIDE
ZUCKERBERG...

WITH ENERGY, EXPERIENCE AND ACCESS TO CASH ARE FOUNDERS
OVER 50 THE NEW ONES TO WATCH? KIRSTY STYLES FINDS OUT

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ntrepreneurial activity, for
obvious reasons, saw a surge
after the 2008 recession.
But, while the rate for under 30s
and people aged 30 to 49 peaked
back in 2012, ‘olderpreneurship’ has
continued to thrive, reaching its
highest ever level, 7.1% of people in
the 50 to 64 age group, in 2014.
Far from innovation being a
‘28-year-old man’s game’, for the
second year running, the annual
Global Entrepreneurship Monitor
(GEM) survey has found that
entrepreneurship among older
people has kept pace with those
starting up under the age of 30.
“Older people may have lost
their jobs during the recession and
found it more difficult to get back
into the labour market, so creating
a business themselves might seem
like a more attractive option,” says
Professor Jonathan Levie, from
the Centre for Entrepreneurship at
the University of Strathclyde, who
leads work on the GEM in the UK.
“We’ve also seen a hollowing out of
professions within larger businesses,
people like in-house lawyers and IT
workers are now going freelance.
There’s a whole range of people
who would have been strategic in a
large business but are now selfemployed.”
This kind of “necessity
entrepreneurship” is more prevalent
in older people, Levie says. “But
there’s also the simple fact of the
lowering cost of starting a business.

SUMMER 2015 • techcitynews.com

It’s easier for older people to
get hold of the cash to start a
business, he explains, which is
often the biggest barrier to young
entrepreneurs. Older people have
“entrepreneurial capital” too, not
just financial assets, but symbolic
capital, being a respected individual
because of their achievements whether that’s because they’ve
won awards or been the director
of a company. Young people are
also more likely to drop out of the
process early, and not just because
they may lack the skills to create
success, but they simply have more
opportunities coming their way.

EQUALITY TRENDS

Erica Wolfe-Murray founded Lola Media aged 55

It’s now a lot easier to create a parttime business, without needing to
interact with it 24/7.
“People are now starting
businesses into their 60s who have
been senior corporate managers all
their lives and they bring fantastic
strategic expertise: confidence,
knowledge of routines, procedures.
Very different to those who are
coming straight out of school.”

The rate of entrepreneurship
between the genders reflects wider
equality trends, with women starting
up businesses less than half as often
as men across all age groups. That’s
despite research from PwC in May
that found women over the age of
55 are best placed to lead strategic
organisational change.
The PwC stats were being used
to highlight the “overlooked” female
over-55 professionals who just might
be able to steer some of the world’s
largest businesses through “wicked
problems knocking on their door”.
But being able to “see situations
from multiple perspectives, employ
positive language and exercise
power courageously” are skills that
could just as easily work at the top
of a startup.

FEATURE
FOUNDERS OVER 50

Although a creative by trade, Erica
Wolfe-Murray “just took over the
books” of Touch Productions, the
joint venture started in 1990 with
her then-husband, and ended up
working as the financial director of
their company for a decade.
Wolfe-Murray is an adventurous
character, counting trapeze
and motorbiking among her
accomplishments. And it’s her nearunique experience as a creative
director, and then a financial director,
that have enabled her to set up Lola
Media, as a 55-year-old founder.
“No one talks about the fact that
it’s an incredible time during your
50s for creativity,” she says. “You
suddenly think you can rule the
world. There’s also the potential for
a massive amount of support from
deep friendships developed over the
years.”
Her consultancy firm gets
companies, from agencies to app
developers “innovating with their
intellectual assets. I help people hack
their business models”. She is very
focused on helping her clients “build
resilience”, something that’s not
always the first thing on the mind
of creative and tech businesses,
and perhaps not the top priority for
young people either.
“There are lots of 20-somethings
running startups who are looking
to grow their business. Creativity
in these industries drives a lot of
wealth, but often those creatives
don’t claim or see any of that. They
have to move themselves from
feeling like they work in the service
industry to talking about asset
building. This is a fundamental shift.”

TAKING CONTROL
It was a fundamental shift - the
death of her sister - that led former
strategic director in the video games
industry Mary Matthews to ask:
“What am I doing with my life?”
Having worked for other people,
giving them her ideas, this was her
chance to prove that she could build
something herself.
“Ageing isn’t really a cool topic

“No one talks about the fact that it’s an incredible time during
your 50s for creativity”

but when we recently demoed
Memrica, my company’s app for
helping people suffering from
dementia, with a group of people in
their 30s, some of them said ‘I could
really do with that’.
“Being an older entrepreneur
can be a bit difficult, if you’re at
a networking event chatting to a
group of young guys, for example,
and they assume you’re on the
corporate side rather than working
in tech,” she explains. “You have
to work a bit harder to have a
conversation that goes anywhere
technical.”

RULING THE WORLD
But what Matthews says she found
hardest of all was working alone,
without people to bounce ideas
off or get feedback from. That was
until she found a business incubator
space with a community she
could tap into through the Prince’s
Trust Prime network for older
entrepreneurs, now part of Business
in the Community.
Professor Levie too sees
challenges for older founders
in his research, identifying
that the “optimum time” for
entrepreneurship, and when most
businesses are created, is when
people are aged between 30 and
50, when their “expertise and energy
collide.
If you’re in your 50s, you are
starting to think about pensions and
some people think it might make
more sense to stay where they are.
You also don’t have as much time to
recover from a mistake as you would
in your 40s.”
Sue Black, founder of TechMums,
says she currently spends most of
her time surrounded by younger
men but believes it could just be
the age old ‘role model issue’ that’s
holding back older founders. “There

aren’t that many high-profile role
models as yet so I think people over50 don’t realise that they can do it.
I think once news gets out that it is
a viable possibility for a successful
later life career the numbers will
increase.
“We’ve not grown up
knowing about startups and
entrepreneurship, so it’s not
something most of us know about.
But that may just be the language,
we’ve always known that people set
up businesses. We are a nation of
shopkeepers after all. Also, we have
been around a while and have a
lot of life experience, that comes in
useful over and over again.”
“Less than 10% of workingage people are trying to start a
business in the UK - it’s clearly
not for everyone - but if you do
start, even if it doesn’t work out,
you’re very likely to try and start
again,” adds Professor Levie. “And
most entrepreneurs never want to
be employed again. It gives you
independence, freedom, creativity,
and there’s no one telling you what
should be done.”
Picking up on this trend, and
having already had huge success
with its Campus for Mums support
scheme, Google has just launched its
first Founders Over 50 programme
at its Shoreditch Campus to help
the next generation, the older
generation, capitalise on its talents.
“I really believe having people
from across all ages working in
companies is highly important,”
concludes Wolfe-Murray.
“There’s obviously lots of focus
on getting young people coding
but what about all these problemsolving older people that love a
crossword? We need to create
communities of all sorts of different
people with the simple goal: ‘let’s
unlock stuff!’

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• techcitynews.com
SUMMER
ISSUE 62015
• techcitynews.com