Want economic recovery? Support businesses started by the middle-aged - RSA

Want economic recovery? Support businesses started by the middle-aged


  • Enterprise

For a few years now there has been a fashion to offer support for entrepreneurs by focusing on a particular age group.

So, as a recent RSA report noted, there is a plethora of initiatives targeted at the 18-30 age group including the Government’s own Start-up Loans scheme. A trend which will only be boosted by the recent success of David Karp who established Tumblr at the age of 21 in 2007 and just sold the site to Yahoo for the ludicrous figure of $1.1 billion in cash.

There’s also been a surge of interest and support for so-called ‘teenpreneurs’ or ‘treps’ in the 13-18 bracket with a growing number of schools and colleges building entrepreneurialism into their curriculum with the active backing of the government. A cause which Young Enterprise has been championing for half a century!

And then there are ‘olderpreneurs’ (one problem with entrepreneurial support is the growth of awful neologisms) who have long been backed by Prime which focuses on people close to or in retirement.

So that’s everyone covered one way or another. Well, not quite. The age group that is notably absent from all the frantic activity is the middle aged.

Without the allure of youth or the demographic force of the old, policy makers and support organisations don’t get much cred for backing the middle-aged entrepreneur or the ‘midpreneur’ (prize to me for the worst yet). They are generally seen as able to look after themselves jolly well without any extra support.

There is truth in such a view. As the big study of entrepreneurial activity conducted by the Kauffman Foundation revealed, the most promising time to set up a business is between the ages of 45 and 54. 33% of businesses set up by this age group survived beyond the time frame of the study (2004-2008) while only 8% survived in the 25-34 bracket. This is hardly surprising: the middle-aged are more likely to have strong professional networks, good standing in their chosen area of business as well as lots of experience and skills both specialist and general.

Hang on though: why exactly do we do entrepreneurial support? Certainly we want to address age specific problems such as youth unemployment and redundancy in older age. But surely the main reason is to help the economy recover and then flourish by creating innovative and sustainable businesses. If this is indeed the main purpose then resources such as taxpayers’ money and government and voluntary sector effort should also be directed to those most likely to be able to establish those sustainable businesses.

So it’s good to see a call from within Government for the age cap on the Start-up Loans scheme to be removed. But maybe we also need to explore and address some of the specific barriers that face ‘midpreneurs’. In particular, there are the extra risks for forty-somethings who are more likely to have young dependents as well as financial liabilities such as mortgages and loans. They will be less time rich as a result but also have far more to lose by making the leap from the relative security of standard employment into the uncertain world of start-up business.

This is not to begrudge the support offered to other age groups. They face major challenges in establishing businesses and should be helped not least because entrepreneurial spirit needs to be established young. But let’s also maximise our strengths by backing those most likely to succeed.

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