Olderpreneurs: starting up over 50

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 for 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 the 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 rise 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."

New challenge

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 really cynical."

She had been organising a few events for the Foreign Press Association, having been appointed its president, and found the work 'really nice and interesting'. So she set up the High Spirits Events Consultancy with a friend, an event 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."

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