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Rise of the Senior-Citizen Entrepreneur

If you think your adult children – or your grandchildren – are the only ones who have the brains and passion to be successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, think again.

A recent article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Technology Review” notes that “innovators” today “are actually getting older.” While young stars like Mark Zuckerberg are grabbing most of the headlines, individuals in their 50s and beyond, the article notes, are building just as many successful businesses – “with real revenues” – as their younger and more celebrated counterparts.

The article, titled “Innovation Without Age Limits,” was written by Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of academics and innovation at Singularity University, an academic institution based in Silicon Valley ( Mr. Wadhwa observes that young adults clearly are “lead[ing] the charge in starting innovative mobile and Web companies.” Such individuals “understand the limits of the Web world, but they don’t know their own limits,” he writes. “It’s proving to be a powerful combination.”

But ideas alone aren’t a guarantee of success. Rather, ideas must be translated into inventions and inventions into successful ventures. “To do this,” Mr. Wadhwa writes, “you have to collaborate with others, obtain financing, understand markets, price products, develop distribution channels, and deal with rejection and failure. In other words, you need business and management skills and maturity. These come with education, experience and age.”

Mr. Wadhwa notes that his research team has found that the average age of the founders of successful U.S. technology businesses is 39. Among such businesses, twice as many successful founders were over 50 as under 25 – and twice as many were over 60 as under 20.

“Age,” Mr. Wadhwa says simply, “provides a distinct advantage.”

And maturity is likely to play an even bigger role going forward. Other fields in science and engineering are “advancing just as rapidly” as the computing world: robotics, synthetic biology, medicine and nanomaterials, among others. “Though college dropouts may know all about social media,” Mr. Wadhwa writes, “it is very unlikely they understand the intricacies of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence as well as their elders do.”

Yes, we “badly need our young,” Mr. Wadhwa concludes. “But we also need “our older entrepreneurs to develop cross-disciplinary solutions that solve the grand challenges of humanity.”

So…spend some time with Mr. Wadhwa and his research. And go help humanity.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.