Since when was there an age limit on taking risk and solving a problem?
Entrepreneurship has often been hailed as a means out of the Great Recession and although economists and academics will continue to argue its true impact on the economy well beyond the crisis, there is no doubt that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education are on the rise in Europe. There is no shortage of help for entrepreneurs and accelerators for startups: an online portal tells me there are around 350 masters courses in entrepreneurship and I’ve read that there are almost 100 accelerators in Europe today. This doesn’t include the specialised programs for startups (e.g.mentoring) and the financial incentives, such as seed money, from governments. Most, however, seem to be directed towards under 35s. And this is where I have a bone to pick…
A month ago, I was invited to be a mentor to entrepreneurs in an international program called Youth Business Spain but its been a challenge for them to find entrepreneurs in the province of Aragon (Spain) were I reside because it turns out most entrepreneurs here are over 40, and this program, you guessed it, is for entrepreneurs under 35. This really grated me the wrong way especially because the word “youth” and “entrepreneur” is being associated with under 35s. Suddenly, everywhere I look I see the age limit on entrepreneurship support from governments. In Spain, where I live, age is an obsession: from CVs (which by the way also require mug shots) to newspapers articles that almost always mention the date of birth of their subject. Last year, a famous startup program in Madrid asked me for my age and then told me that to enter, not only did I have to be under 30, but that I also need a team (sorry, forgot to mention: I’m an “old” AND “lonely" entrepreneur ) and my startup had to be something digital!! Whats next? We need to look the part? (tight jeans, trainers, hoodies and geeky haircuts).
Does being 40 mean I’m not motivated anymore to give it my everything? I admit I might be going through what others call a mid-life crisis: I went back to reading real books (that you can hold in your hands as opposed to ebooks), bought a second hand CD player (to listen to CDs as opposed to streaming off my laptop) and I’m thinking of investing in a vinyl player. I also admit, rather reluctantly, that I cannot beat a hangover as quickly as I could twenty years ago. And two weeks ago, while out on my 40th birthday bash in London, I ended up in A&E because I had severe - wait for it - constipation and gases.
But since when did being 40 mean I can’t solve problems? Isn’t that essentially what entrepreneurs do? And isn’t that the only thing governments should worry about: supporting people who solve problems? To this, no doubt, the governments will tell me that there is, as a consequence of the crisis, an increase in youth unemployment and that entrepreneurship should be targeted at youth more than anyone else. And its true: almost 45% of under 25s are out of jobs in Spain, the highest in Europe after Greece (around 50%). I used to be unemployed and I know what it feels like. Its actually not that far from being 40 and an entrepreneur without clients. Every morning I have to fight off the feeling that nothing could work out and I could be living on the streets. Worse, I have two kids and there are some mornings when I think: I really don’t want to get out of bed and face yet another uphill climb. (Thankfully I have no choice because I have to take my kids to school!!).
So, yes, under 35s need our help. But so does everyone else outside this age bracket. There’s also an ageing crisis, you know. Europe isn’t getting any younger: its getting older. The 65+ (often associated with the “elderly”) also need our help. Not all 65+ want to retire and live off their pensions. In about 20 years those under 35s in my mentoring program will need to be thinking about what they are doing next. Perhaps they’ll be on their 5th business or career. What kind of infrastructure will be there to support them? When I was in Liverpool last year, visiting startups, I met a really awesome entrepreneur who made straps for hearing aids (so you don’t lose them). I didn’t ask her age (because it didn’t matter) but she created her first prototype for her mum (who was around 90), so I’m guessing she was in her early 70s. I remember that nothing stopped her from approaching me, asking for my help and most of all her enthusiasm inspired me to stop bitching so much (well, obviously, that didn’t last).
So, I think, us "over 35s” have a lot to offer the world of entrepreneurship. In fact, we have much more to offer than just the years clocked up on our CVs, the titles and work experience. We have living experience and years of being responsible and that’s important ammo for an entrepreneur. When everyday is like walking off the edge of a cliff, you need to trust yourself. And, besides, why should only the under 35s have to be burdened with bringing us out of economic recession? We should all be “entrepreneuring" together on this.
To end on a bright note: I was invited to a conference in Budapest last week where I brought this up (if you haven’t already noticed, I have a big mouth). Someone (important) in the panel said there needs to be an age limit on entrepreneurship (I think she said around 45-50). Naturally she got shot down, the crowd applauded and it turns out that this relatively new accelerator/hub has no age limits. All they want is a really good business model. But, best of all, the moderator who gave me the mike thanked me for bringing it up because he’s 50 and an entrepreneur. That makes the two of us…anyone else out there who feels the same way?
(Originally published on May 5, 2016 @ 21:13, on smauhya.com)