Olderpreneurs and why we are likely to be more successful

The focus on young people when it comes to start ups has been a constant source of frustration to me, since setting up my business. There’s no doubt they need help, support and investment to get their ideas off the ground and good luck to them – I applaud anyone with the guts to give it go – whatever age. But turning up at yet another support group/event to find I was the only person over 40, was so alienating, eventually I stopped going.

I had 30 years experience and a wealth of contacts, but there were (and still are) all sorts of new and unexpected obstacles to overcome. In the early days – when I was the office cleaner, IT person, accountant and content provider, I often felt overwhelmed and having a group of like-minded people to talk to, would have been incredibly helpful.

Becoming invisible as we age is a growing problem particularly in the workplace and it’s something many of my friends have encountered. They have found after years of working in a particular industry, they are overlooked when it comes to promotion and find it increasingly hard to even get interviews for new jobs. This is leading to many of them – like me – to re-consider their future. Starting a business in middle age is daunting but also exciting and it seems we are good at it. Take a look at this feature in today’s Telegraph…………

‘When Jane Kellock proposed an idea for a new business to her male boss and an investor, their response was disappointing. “They said, ‘I like this bit but I don’t like that bit,’” she recalls. “They were quite disparaging.”

But Kellock, 56, who had spent her career working as a trend forecaster in the fashion industry, did not stay demoralised for long. “I came away from the meeting thinking ‘screw you, I can do this myself,’” she recalls.

And so, at  the age of 51, she decided to set up her own enterprise: a business-to-business website called Unique Style Platform (USP) that provides a forecasting service for the fashion and lifestyle industries. Almost five years on, she has around five women working for her on a regular basis at her office in Hackney, east London, and a huge team of freelancers as her company continues to grow.

Kellock is one of numerous success stories among the often-overlooked demographic of over-50s who set up their own businesses – a group that reportedly accounts for one in six new businesses started in the UK. Known as ‘olderpreneurs,’ their hit rates are impressive: research suggests that businesses started by older people tend to have a 70 per cent chance of making it through the first five years, whereas among businesses started by younger entrepreneurs, the figure is only 28 per cent.

Although older women have traditionally lagged behind older men in business creation, there are signs that increasing numbers of women in midlife and beyond are deciding, for a multitude of reasons, to give it a go.

“We’re seeing a lot of women who are starting up businesses in their mid-40s to early-50s,” says Lynne Cadenhead, chairman of Women’s Enterprise Scotland. “It is a genuine trend.”

So what lies behind this increase in female-led “silver start-ups”? And how are older female entrepreneurs benefiting from the so-called age advantage?

One answer can be found in research conducted by The Telegraph before the launch last week of our Women Mean Business campaign to close the funding gap facing female entrepreneurs. As part of this, we commissioned a poll of 750 female business owners, among the findings of which was that women with children were the most likely to say they felt they were not an equal footing with male founders when starting out. Interestingly though, those with adult children who had left home not only said they felt this less than those whose children still lived at home, but less even than those who had no children (just under 25% of those with adult children felt it applied to them, compared to just under 35% of childless female entrepreneurs).

“Throughout my children’s childhood I was freelancing part-time and juggling lots of thing to fit in around them,” she says. Once she no longer had to do so, her options broadened as the hours she could devote to work increased. “We can’t pretend it’s not difficult to raise children and work,” she says. “Now my children have left home all my energy can be diverted to working. I feel I can work 14-hour days now and don’t feel guilty anymore. I’ve also got an amazing amount of contacts and am very well connected, and I’ve [built up] the knowledge [during my career].”

Friends in the same position who have “got the child-rearing part of their lives out of the way” are now keen to start their own businesses too, she adds.

Others take the plunge even later in life, depending on their own personal circumstances, but the frequent refrain is that the time was finally right for them.

Cherry Harkerlaunched her swimwear business, ZwimZuit, in 2016 at the age of 76. She has told the Telegraph previously: “It seemed like the perfect time: I married when I was 30, then spent my 30s and 40s focused on family life, supporting my husband, John, in his business and raising our daughter, Tamarisk. I’d battled breast cancer in my 50s, cervical cancer in my 60s, so now I finally had time to do something that was just for me. I don’t see my age as a barrier.”

Not only might the time be right once women are relieved of their childcare responsibilities, it’s also the case that those who have spent many years juggling caring responsibilities with work may feel well-placed to take on the challenge of starting their own companies. After all, if you’ve managed to hold down paid employment for two decades or more while handling the myriad tasks involved in parenting and running a household (the bulk of which still typically fall to women), anything feels possible.

Friends in the same position who have “got the child-rearing part of their lives out of the way” are now keen to start their own businesses too, she adds.

Others take the plunge even later in life, depending on their own personal circumstances, but the frequent refrain is that the time was finally right for them.

Cherry Harkerlaunched her swimwear business, ZwimZuit, in 2016 at the age of 76. She has told the Telegraph previously: “It seemed like the perfect time: I married when I was 30, then spent my 30s and 40s focused on family life, supporting my husband, John, in his business and raising our daughter, Tamarisk. I’d battled breast cancer in my 50s, cervical cancer in my 60s, so now I finally had time to do something that was just for me. I don’t see my age as a barrier.”

Not only might the time be right once women are relieved of their childcare responsibilities, it’s also the case that those who have spent many years juggling caring responsibilities with work may feel well-placed to take on the challenge of starting their own companies. After all, if you’ve managed to hold down paid employment for two decades or more while handling the myriad tasks involved in parenting and running a household (the bulk of which still typically fall to women), anything feels possible.

“Women bring a different life experience to business,” is how Cadenhead puts it. “[They] always have multiple roles in society: they’ll be wives, carers, mothers.They’re much more used to [juggling things] and more comfortable doing it.”

Elsewhere the report, which was written by Isabella Moore, a former chair of the Women’s Enterprise Panel, noted: “Setting up in business is an opportunity for many older women to develop a long-held ambition or fulfil a need for recognition and status.”

Increasing life expectancy may also come into play. Many of today’s 50-somethings have decades of good health ahead of them and, as Moore’s report says, “Good physical and mental health is an important factor for women thinking of setting up their own business, who consider it a prerequisite for such entrepreneurial activity.”

Greater life expectancy also means women are often in midlife or older before they lose their parents. Inheriting money at this age could provide not only the impetus but the means to put their long-held dreams of entrepreneurship into action.

On the flipside, Moore’s research suggests necessity is as likely to be the mother of female entrepreneurship as desire, and her report refers to a breed of older women she calls reluctant entrepreneurs: “Older women are likely to choose entrepreneurship, despite it being a non-stereotypical activity, because of necessity when other more conventional paths are blocked because of job dissatisfaction or discrimination,” the report says. In the same vein, “Inadequate or non-existent pension provision can be the driver which prompts older women to explore an entrepreneurial venture, so as to boost their income.”

As Bill Gates once said, “self-confidence is primary and then finding your passion is an adventure.” For some women over 50, this has never resonated more”.

To find out more about the Telegraph’s Women Mean Business campaign visit telegraph.co.uk/women/business /

1 Comment

  • Bianca Elgar says:

    Thank you for sharing this. As a 56 entrepreneur myself, it is so good to read that I am not alone! Some days feel like I am chewing ground glass looking down an abyss, but most days I am so happy I am following a passion and going on my adventure. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I am doing.

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