It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.

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Old Masters at the Top of Their Game, an essay by Lewis H. Lapham, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 23, 2014

I came across the New York Times Magazine feature article referenced above the other day, at around the same time as I stumbled across a recent YFS (Young, Fabulous & Self-employed) Magazine post 5 Reasons Why Starting A Business In Your 20’s Is A Good Idea.

The Times article includes a lovely essay (the source of the quote above) by Lewis H. Lapham reflecting on the nature of aging, success, and knowledge. The essay is accompanied by portraits (photographs and interview snippets) of 15 highly successful people in their 80s and 90s who still have active, thriving careers. The photos by Erik Madigan Heck are striking and alone make it worth your time to check out the article.

The YFS post opines that gaining experience by “working your way up the corporate ladder” before starting a business is “backward thinking” and encourages 20-somethings to take advantage of their youth, resilience, stamina, passion, flexibility, technology/social media savvy, and lack of obligations as the driving forces behind taking the leap into entrepreneurship.

So, when is the best time to start a small business– when you have the enthusiasm of youth, the wisdom of old age, or somewhere in between?

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The Research

Luckily, researchers have tackled this exact question and can provide some answers. This infographic is based on results from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2013 United States report. It finds that the highest level of entrepreneurship is found for mid-career men and women between the ages of 35 and 44. It also finds that this age group may be most successful because they have reached a sweet-spot for the alignment of perceived opportunities, perceived capabilities, and fear of failure. At this point, the infographic notes, we are most likely to “get out of our own way” and succeed.

Interesting the newer 2014 GEM Global report (the 2014 US report has not yet been released) finds the highest percentage of North American (US and Canada) early-stage entrepreneurs in the 25-35 age range (about 17%), followed by 45-54 at 14%, 35-55 at 13%, and 18-24 at 12%. While rate of entrepreneurship varies from region-to-region, that 25-35 age range leads the pack for starting new businesses in all regions covered by the study.

Some older research from 2009 found that “the average and median age of U.S.-born tech founders was thirty-nine when they started their companies. Twice as many were older than fifty as were younger than twenty-five.” So, perhaps we are seeing a new trend where millennials from all nations are increasingly striking out on their own as small business owners.


The Anecdotes

Regardless of study findings, there are many examples of successful entrepreneurs and small business owners of all ages. You’re sure to find a sweet-spot of inspiration from one of the following (in chronological order):

  • What You Can Learn From 8 Kids Already Making a Million Dollars This post features kids ages 8 to 16 who started and are still running successful small businesses ranging from a YouTube channel, to marketing and social media companies.
  • Why all under 25s should start their own business This post from Virgin Entrepreneur urges the under 25 crowd to take advantage of their low living expenses (no mortgage, no kids, no rent if they are still living at home) and extensive free time to start a small business that enables them to pursue a passion. After all, it advises, what better way to show mom and dad that you are “getting a real job” than to be the CEO of your own company.
  • The Young Rich List – 30 Under 30 Internet Millionaires The list includes short bios for familiar names like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (#1) and Groupon’s Andrew Mason (#3), as well as lesser known success stories like Sean Belnick who started Bizchair at age 14 (#13), and Aodhan Cullen founder of web analysis and statistics company StatCounter (#21).
  • Starting a Business in Your 40s Makes More Sense Than You Think This Inc. post highlights several 40-something entrepreneurial success stories. According to the post, “Middle-aged entrepreneurs have business savvy that twentysomethings envy. It’s up to you to put it to good use.”
  • 20 People Who Became Highly Successful After Age 40 This Business Insider post includes success stories from many familiar names including designer Vera Wang, automobile mogul Henry Ford, instant ramen noodle inventor Momofuku Ando, and Jack Cover the inventor of the Taser gun.
  • Why all over 50s should start a business Another post from Virgin Entrepreneur highlights all of the reasons those in their 50s are at the perfect time in their lives to start a small business including having extensive industry knowledge and experience, having more time now that kids have left the house, having extensive business networks in place, and having savings to fund the venture (rather than relying on taking loans or wooing investors).
  • Starting Your Own Business Over 60 This post from provides helpful advice for the over 60 crowd looking to start a business—whether as a main source of income, supplemental income, or just as a way to continue working after retirement. It suggests that Internet-based businesses are a great idea (even though working with new technology may be daunting) because they are a good choice for a wide variety of markets, and have relatively low start-up and maintenance costs.
  • How We Started a Business in Our 70s This husband and wife team tells the story of how they got the idea for, refined, and now successfully run, an online restaurant directory. After a lifetime of entrepreneurship, they started this latest venture in their 70s.


Taking the Entrepreneurial Plunge

Of course the real test for whether you should start a small business is not age, but rather having an innovative unique idea that brilliantly solves a pressing customer issue, and having the relentless drive to overcome any and all obstacles required to turn it into a successful company.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is chock-full of resources that can help you decide whether entrepreneurship is right for you, and help you get started once you decide to take the plunge. Start with Is Entrepreneurship For You?; then go through the 20 Questions Before Starting. And, if you happen to be over 50, check out the SBA Encore Entrepreneurs program. The Summer of Encore Mentoring initiative kicked-off this June, with a number of local events.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter if youthful enthusiasm wins the day, or as David Mamet posits, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” If you think you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, yours is the perfect age to do it.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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