Young Tech Founders Innovate, But Older Ones Succeed

By February 07, 2012
Keywords : Smart city, America
young man coding

People often associate tech founders with youth, but the average age of a successful founder is 39. Youth may have some, but not all the advantage in this industry.


The image of a young startup founder has been idealized in contemporary culture, but fresh faces and disruptive ideas may not lead to successful ventures. In fact, the average and median age of founders of successful US technology businesses was determined to be 39 in an Education and Tech Entrepreneurship research paper available from the Social Science Research Network. The study found “twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20. So everyone has a shot at success, but age provides a distinct advantage.” While popular sentiment is that young and savvy kids should skip college and get straight to business, what contributes most to a venture is a facility with collaboration, finances, markets, product prices, distribution channels, and the ability to deal with rejection and failure - all of which are more present and developed with maturity.

Despite likelihood of failure, young CEOs have their advantages

Younger CEOs may find it easier to win funding from venture capitalist due to the magnetism of innovative ideas. From 1997 to 2007, the venture industry grew simultaneously as young tech-preneurs became a normal occurrence but data concludes that this growth is not a sustainable development. Most successful businesses are not funded by venture capital, and those that have been are seeing plateauing or declining returns. Favoring youth results in idea-based ventures that are less secure as investments - most of these businesses fail. But in Silicon Valley, a failure only means an opportunity to try again until an idea or business model sticks. That is the advantage of the young CEO - she has the flexibility to adapt, while gaining experience for the next project.

Increasingly complex science requires an older expert to innovate

Outside of computing, technology advances are increasing in robotics, nanomaterials, synthetic biology, medicine and other complex categories. These industries require knowledge and context to innovate within, which is not conducive to the Ivy League dropout or precocious autodidact of the young entrepreneur paradigm. This is the domain of the expert, and as the study mentions, “it’s no wonder that innovators are getting older” given the increasing complexities in science. Young entrepreneurs might come up with disruptive ideas, but older ones are more mature and therefore better at collaborative with other peers in different disciplines. The researchers conclude that of course “there is no age requirement for innovation”, but suggest young and older entrepreneurs are both indispensible and complimentary. Young people “dominate new-era software development” while older entrepreneurs bring “cross-disciplinary solutions that solve the grand challenge of humanity.” 

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