On Wednesday, nine entrepreneurs will gather at Campus London, Google’s hub for start-ups in Shoreditch. But they won’t be hoodie-wearing 20-somethings who’ll spend all day coding: they will all be in their 50s and older; entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses for the first time.
Google is launching Founders over 50, a free pilot programme running for six weeks that will coach them in business planning, communications, design and sales. Ninety businesses applied and nine were selected, ranging from a data company and an events aggregator, to a company that helps people find a therapist.
Sarah Drinkwater, head of Campus London, explains that diversity is part of the tech giant’s mission: “We strongly believe that online products will only get better and more useful if we invite all segments of society to influence and create technology,” she says.
High50 caught up with Sarah to hear more.
“My dad is 61 and he’s been a programmer since the 1970s… and it’s only now I realise what a trailblazer he’s always been. His company is beginning to retirement plan for him, and I look at my dad – who did an ethical hacking course last week – who is extremely energetic and full of beans and ideas and I think how on earth can a traditional workspace be planning for him to retire? It doesn’t make sense.
“Sometimes I read about tech and I don’t recognise the tech scene they are talking about. Often tech is spoken about as a bunch of young guys in hoodies, often we presume that innovation only comes from a certain age group. And to me that’s crazy.”
“I look at the people I meet on Campus who are doing really well and they are often not 21 years old, I kept meeting [business] founders in their 50s, 60s, 70s who have a fantastic history behind them.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence but are able to assess risk very practically, are able to bootstrap far further than 25-year-olds, and often have the contacts that someone who has never worked in a traditional career has.”
“At the same time as hearing [about some people’s contact networks], we were hearing the same kinds of problems, the first one being: I don’t have a support network of my peers; many of my friends don’t understand what I’m doing; I’m the only one of my friendship group who is starting a company at 61. So we decided to launch the programme.
“One thing nearly all the group need help with is sales. For example, a couple of the founders who are amazing at PR, for example, say they struggle at sales and would like to improve.
“‘Sales’ has such a bad PR problem as a word, but [we teach it] in a way that still allows you to be authentic. We want to give them tools so when they are selling their company [and what it does] they feel completely comfortable.”
“There has been a slight sea change. When I think about the entrepreneurs based in the Campus building who are doing really well they are often older.
“It’s important to challenge all of these biases that we have, around gender, age, around where somebody comes from. Ultimately innovation can come from anywhere, it’s just about the support that you give a particular person. Diversity is something that is important to Google and Campus.”
“We look for a certain mindset. We are looking for someone to come and share their challenges, experience and knowledge and not everybody is comfortable with that. [We also look for] people we can genuinely help. We wanted to put together a group where we could clearly identify things they needed.”
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