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Who has the advantage when starting a business – younger or older entrepreneurs?

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As entrepreneurship continues to grow in the United States, scholars have questioned if there is an age that gives entrepreneurs a better chance at success. Of the estimated 27 million entrepreneurs in the United States today, are those that are younger or older have the advantage when it comes to starting a business?

Mo Wang According to new research from Mo Wang, Lanzillotti-McKethan Eminent Scholar and Professor of Management at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business, and colleagues Michael M. Gielnik from Leuphana University of Luneburg and Hannes Zacher from Leipzig University, the age-associated characteristics of an entrepreneur can actually both hinder and facilitate the process of starting a business.

After surveying 343 working adults ages 20 to 69, their research, titled Age in the Entrepreneurial Process: The Role of Future Time Perspective and Prior Entrepreneurial Experience, concluded that younger entrepreneurs are more likely to form entrepreneurial intentions after having identified a potential business opportunity. Older entrepreneurs, though, are more likely to turn entrepreneurial intentions into entrepreneurial activity.

Wang and colleagues found that younger entrepreneurs are more likely to form intentions for starting a business after identifying an idea because they have more extensive future time perspective, meaning they perceive they have more time before an important endpoint (e.g. retirement, international relocation, death).

On the other hand, older entrepreneurs are more likely to turn entrepreneurial intentions into activity because they have greater prior entrepreneurial experience. For the older entrepreneur, having more business experience than the younger entrepreneur gives them an advantage when it comes to actually acting on starting a business.

Overall, the researchers found that age is negatively associated with future time perspective and positively associated with prior entrepreneurial experience. Accordingly, age is indeed not the real factor in play for entrepreneurs to have greater success, it’s how much prior experience with entrepreneurship the individual has under their belt.

Wang and colleagues recommend that younger entrepreneurs who lack the entrepreneurial experience but wish to transform their business intentions into action seek entrepreneurial mentors who can give advice on all aspects of starting a business like acquiring financial resources, networking strategies and developing operations procedures. For older entrepreneurs who might find it less motivating to form entrepreneurial intentions due to constrained future time perspectives, Wang and colleagues recommend speaking with career counselors who can help expand older people’s occupational future time perspective and encourage them to act on their most promising entrepreneurial ideas.

The full research from Gielnik, Zacher and Wang is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.