Olderpreneurs: starting up over 50
There's a wave of new businesses from those who've seen in their first half-century.
Bill Gates, Deborah Meaden and Sir Alan Sugar certainly haven't
hung up their boots since turning 50. McDonald's founder Raymond
Kroc didn't even begin the world's most famous food chain until he
was 52. Turning 50 isn't the end of a business career - it's the
beginning. And an ever-growing wave of 'olderpreneurs', as the
vocabulary of the zeitgeist likes to put it, are proving life's
later years can be the most colourful.
Businesses started by people over 50 have a 70% chance
of surviving their first five years - compared with only a 28%
survival rate for those younger than them.
Nearly half the self-employment population is over 50, and one
in six new businesses started in the UK are set up by
post-half-centurions. And that's not all. Businesses started
by people over 50 have a 70% chance of surviving their first five
years - compared with only a 28% survival rate for those younger
than them, according to research from over-50 business starter
support charity PRIME.
So what's fuelling the entrepreneurial impetus of the 'silver
startup', and why are they doing so well?
The over-50s age group has been particularly hard-hit by the
recession. Last year, the Office of National Statistics (ONS)
revealed 28% of those aged between 50 and state pension age were
out of work - compared with only 20% of those aged under 50.
Unemployment figures among the over-50s were up 31.5% in December
2008 from same period the year before, compared with a rise of just
21.6% for younger people over the same period.
Why? One of the biggest factors is the rife ageism that permeates
practically every industry in the UK, that anyone over 50 who's
been forced to look for employment will testify to with a weary
nod. To put a chilling number to the common knowledge: the ONS
estimates those who lose their job aged 50 or over have only a 10%
chance of being re-employed.
It's the situation Alec Stewart found himself in, aged 55, when he
was made redundant from his role in pharmaceutical marketing in the
mid-80s. "You don't have enough money saved. You've got to do
something," he says, matter-of-factly. Having made various trips to
the Caribbean in his former role, Stewart had spotted the absence
of various consumer products over there. He decided to see if he
could use his marketing savvy to convince the brands without a
presence in that part of the world to let him try to get them on
the shelves. It worked.
FFPS (Caribbean) was born. "When you've got to do it, you can
do it," he says.
Using the money from his redundancy to fund the company, over the
course of two years the payout had trickled in its entirety into
the business. But it was worth the investment - Stewart is still in
business, aged 78, and is 'not by any means losing money'.
"It's terrific anticipation, it's great motivation and it keeps
your brain - and so far the body - working very well," he says. "I
think I'm lucky at my age to still be doing it. It's not a romantic
job, but when you pay your own money to get somewhere or to do
something, you work every second of the day you can. But it really
is a delight."
At a fundamental level, sometimes people just want to do
something different in their later years.
It's interesting that recent YouGov and Standard Life research
found the average age at which people feel totally confident in
their working skills is 37, while the more elusive sense of
fulfilment peaks at 50. Perhaps this climax of achievement and
sense of ability leads to a need for a new direction, a new
challenge, once a person passes the half-century mark.
Tine van Houts was a career TV news reporter, covering politically
fraught and emotionally intense situations across the globe. Having
just entered her 50s, she decided it was time to do something
'really cheerful' instead: "Because otherwise you start to get
She had been organising a few events for the Foreign Press
Association, having been appointed its president, and found the wok
'really nice and interesting'. So she set up the High Spirits
Events Consultancy with a friend, an events and later also
media training company.
She carried on her reporting work for the first year of the
business, but since then she's given the business her full
attention. Does she miss what she terms the 'addictive' world of
news reporting? "No, not at all. Though I thought I would."