Dissolving the Myths of Young Founding Stars

In line with lots of published studies and national statistics showing that founders are on average in a middle-age, the Start-up Monitor examines 382 Swiss entrepreneurs in regards to their founding age and co-dissolves the “myth of young founding stars”. It has been calculated an average age of 39.9 years at the date of their firm foundation. A deeper look at the age distribution shows that 80% of the entrepreneurs founded their business between 30 and 49. Thus, the raised founding stars such as Marc Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, who founded in their twenties, can been seen as outliers. Instead, the question of why the middle-age is a particularly good time to found comes to the fore. One plausible reason is that age is usually connected to more life experience, i.e. to more work and industry experience, a greater social network, a higher technical and managerial skill level, and a stronger financial position (OECD 2013, Senior Entrepreneurship) – all factors that tend to reduce perceived uncertainty in the early founding process and push people into entrepreneurial activities.
Moreover, most Swiss entrepreneurs are improvement-driven, i.e. they are motivated by an opportunity rather than no other options for work (GEM Report on Switzerland 2012). “Our observations tell us that most opportunities are created in familiar environments, e.g. out of a hobby, an earlier activity as employee, or a known technological environment. This is among others because founders feel secure in what they do when drawing on their experiences”, so Prof. Dietmar Grichnik, Scientific Lead Swiss-Start-up Monitor at the University of St.Gallen (HSG).
The Swiss Start-up Monitor team goes one step further and examines how the founders’ age has developed over the past 13 years. A comparison between the oldest and youngest start-ups (within a T-Test) results in a slight but significant decrease of the founders’ age at the time of new venture creation. More specifically, older start-ups have been created with an average age of 41.7 years while the younger ones have been founded with 37.5 on average. Why? It can reasonably be assumed that one aspect is the entrepreneurship education. Indeed, “Entrepreneurship education plays an essential role in terms of shaping attitudes, skill building and shift in entrepreneurial mindsets, but it also takes time”, says Dr. Uwe Gross, Project Lead Swiss Start-up Monitor. Another reason is that entrepreneurship as an alternative career choice is being increasingly promoted at universities and business schools in Switzerland, which motivates younger people to start their own business (cf. OECD – Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2013).
Against the widespread assumption of very young successful entrepreneurs, this little examination shows that Swiss founders often create a business in their middle-age. This trend is slightly decreasing. However, achieving success as an entrepreneur does not depend on the age. A good business idea can be rather developed at any stage of life.

The Swiss Start-up Monitor is a joined research initiative of the University of St.Gallen, ETH Zurich and University of Basel supported by the Commission of Technology and Innovation (CTI), Gebert Rüf Stiftung and AVINA Stiftung. The main goal is to build up an exclusive panel of Swiss start-ups in order to foster entrepreneurship on a micro- and on a macro-economic level. This aim will be achieved by collecting and analyzing data of Swiss start-ups on an aggregate and anonymous level, providing high data security and user controllability at any time. The recent sample size is 1500 in the public directory and 376 in the private area for registered user. Visit the Start-up Monitor Homepage to get more information: http://www.startupmonitor.ch.


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