The Best Age for a Start-Up Founder

In some industries, experience counts

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What is the ideal age at which to start a business? Submitted by commenter aplotkowski3

There’s no question that starting a business is easier when you’re younger. The fewer nonwork responsibilities you have, the more likely you are to pour your blood, sweat and tears into a new venture. But that doesn’t mean you should leave school or your job to start a company just because you’re young.

Venture capitalists often favor fresh meat. Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest VC firms, has gushed about how entrepreneurs in their mid- to late 20s “see no boundaries, see no limits, see no obstacle that they can’t hurdle.” Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, launched a $100,000 fellowship in 2010 for entrepreneurs under 20—that is, teenagers—to encourage “promising young people not to wait on their ideas.” The average age of the entrepreneurs funded by Y Combinator, an elite business accelerator, is 26.

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But part of the reason youth culture reigns in Silicon Valley is that the region is dominated by Internet firms, a relatively new sector for which start-up costs are low and only minimal prior business expertise is necessary. Venture capitalists may also like working with young people because they are more impressionable and have fewer bad habits to unlearn.

Still, start-ups in some industries, such as biotech and business software, gain an edge from the experience that comes with a founder’s age. According to research by Vivek Wadhwa, an academic and tech entrepreneur, and the Kauffman Foundation, the average age of successful start-up founders in these and other high-growth industries was 40. And high-growth start-ups are almost twice as likely to be launched by people over 55 as by people 20 to 34.

If you have the financial resources, the right network and, most important, a great idea, age ain’t nothing but a number.

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