It’s never too late to start your own business

50 is the new 21 age for entrepreneurs

There is a common misconception among many budding entrepreneurs that starting a business is a journey that is best initiated at a young age. Entrepreneurship is however not just for the youth, and can be embarked upon at any stage of life.

This is according to Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, who says despite the success stories about young individuals pursuing entrepreneurial ventures – such as  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (then 20) and Airbnb’s Brian Chesk co-founder (then 26) –  these individuals are the exceptions rather than the norm. “The average entrepreneur tends to be a middle-aged professional who, through experience, has identified an opportunity to establish a business and fill a gap in the market.

He points to research conducted in the US by Kauffman Foundation titled the Anatomy of an Entrepreneur. Surveying over 500 high growth founders, it revealed that the typical successful high growth entrepreneur is 40 years old, and that there are more than twice as many successful entrepreneurs over the age of 50 compared to under the age of 25.

Our experience with the competition confirms that there are still are a number of ‘older’ entrepreneurs making a name for themselves – those that have had a successful career and have since developed a business after identifying  a gap in the market, says Engelbrecht. “Our 2013 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® category winner, Jonathan Pepler, spent 30 years in the corporate retail sector before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey in the construction industry.”

Engelbrecht adds, the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year® overall winner, Tommy Makhatho – owner of BiBi Cash & Carry – is another example. “While he had entrepreneurial aspirations from a very young age, Makhatho’s business only thrived later in life due to the experience he had accumulated. Having left school after standard nine in 1976, he went on to pursue many avenues from hairdressing to a distributing of hair-care products. In 1998, Makhatho opened the first Bibi Cash & Carry Family Supermarket and subsequently Bibi Wholesaler and Bibi Cash & Carry. The retail group has grown in profit and size significantly, and today, Makhatho  employs over 500 people.”

The average age of an entrepreneur in South Africa is between 22 – 45 years, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa 2014 report. Although there is no prescribed age to pursue entrepreneurship, each age group has its advantages, explains Engelbrecht. “Young entrepreneurs benefit from their propensity to take risks, a characteristic that is synonymous with entrepreneurial traits, as well as a youthful energy to persevere should a risk not pay off at first.

“However, in contrast, older entrepreneurs have the advantage of experience, as well as the ability to take more calculated risks given that they are likely to have more weighing on the risks they opt to take, such as family or investment responsibilities. Older entrepreneurs, those with more working experience, also tend to have more skills in running a business and wider networks to utilise for business gains.”

Engelbrecht says that the fear of ‘being too old’ to start a business shouldn’t be a reason that aspiring entrepreneurs don’t take the leap. “Some aspiring entrepreneurs shrug off the idea of owning a business out of fear that their internal clock has long ticked past the proverbial deadline. This mind-set needs to change.

“There are many successful business men and women who, after years of experience in the workplace – whether near to or far from retirement – find that their minds and bodies are still active and fit enough to begin a new venture, even well into retirement years.”

Engelbrecht concludes with a reminder that it is never too early or too late to start a business – with calculated risks, sufficient research, a good business plan and the right support – opportunities for success are always in sight.