Business start-up: 50 is the right time
The report shows a pressing need for products, services and technologies for older people designed by older people
March 30, 2012 | By:
Getting investment for a new venture is difficult. But ‘olderpreneurs’ are more successful than most, and a quarter of new British companies are started by the 50 to 65 age group. So go for it, says Fiona Webster

50 the right timeLaurence Miles had roadtested his idea for a new business and had customers lining up round the block. All he needed was a small bank loan to get going.

But although he had a million pound house as collateral and a brilliant business plan, the banks weren’t lending. The fifth bank manager he tried finally admitted that Laurence’s age, 52, had gone against him.

Laurence took another year to raise the cash through friends. Once he did, his restaurant supply business, as he had predicted, boomed. So much for bank know-how.


Laurence’s bank rejection was not unusual. We know times are tough, but it seems the older and surely wiser generation are the last in line to get financial support, even though statistics show that banks and big investors are backing the wrong horse.

Hi-tech and creative industries

Forget those irritatingly smug pre-pubescent internet so-called millionaires for a moment (do they ever really make a profit?). ‘Olderpreneurs’ are just as happy to take a risk as younger business start-ups, according to figures from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta). More than a quarter of British companies are set up by people aged between 50 and 65, and their failure rate is lower than their younger counterparts.

Forget suggestions that we don’t ‘get it’ technically. Research shows we are just as likely to be found in the high-tech and creative industries supposedly preferred by the young.

We are often better motivated than our 20-something rivals, too. Research at Kingston University showed that the biggest motivation for older entrepreneurs was the desire to do something pleasurable (39 per cent), followed by achieving a better work-life balance (29 per cent) and not wanting to work for someone else (24 per cent). Almost 50 per cent of all 50-plus entrepreneurs are happier than they have ever been, the study also found, despite the fact that 79 per cent work alone.

Patrick Collinson, personal finance editor of the Guardian, says: “Many of the older people founding businesses are ‘solo entrepreneurs’, guided as much by the desire to give something back to the community as making money. But starting late is no bar to global success.”

Entrepreneurs: more likely to be over 55

Yet we still think of entrepreneurship as a young man’s game. Author Dr Barrie Hopson, who writes theplusesofbeing50plus blog, says “More than a third (38 per cent) of people in London believe that entrepreneurs fit into the 25-34 age group, when in fact they are more likely to be over 55.”

Hopson quotes research by Nominet Trust, which found that the largest number of British entrepreneurs are 55 years and over.

“Nominet Trust’s report, Ageing and the Use of the Internet, highlights the huge potential to mobilise our ageing population’s enterprise and digital savvy to use the internet to address social problems in their lives and communities. In particular, the report shows a pressing need for products, services and technologies for older people designed by older people,” says Hopson.

The Prince’s Trust has also tapped into the ‘olderpreneurs’ market, launching The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (Prime).The aim is to help the over-fifties set up in business, offering information, workshops and business networking events. It can also refer people for free business advice and mentoring and has launched the Prime Business Club.

But there are still many businesses that have flourished despite lack of interest from banks and recognised sources.

Examples of start-ups in their fifties

Lesley, Mandy and Gillian of Ladies Who Lunch Jewellery

Jewellery start-up: Ladies Who Lunch

When Lesley Schillinger settled in the UK after a marketing career in the Far East she decided to start a business supplying something she couldn’t find.

“We realised there was a gap in the market for individual, well-made jewellery at affordable prices,” says Lesley, 54, who works with her sister Mandy Browne and friend Gillian Diggle. “We had the expertise to know how to grow the business rather than get in debt to banks.

“We called it Ladies Who Lunch Jewellery because that was our market and sourced material from around the world, then launched a made-to-order line too, where customers could commission items for a particular occasion.”

Ladies Who Lunch is now thriving, with a full order book despite the recession, and is planning to expand.

“I think being older is an advantage because we have so much experience between us to draw on,” says Lesley, from Oxfordshire. “I don’t think there are any disadvantages. A lot of success now depends on social marketing such as Facebook, so we have learned how to do it. It’s not hard, it’s just marketing via another avenue. I enjoy it!”


Linda Simpson of Explore Wine

Wine start-up: Explore Wine

As a futures and options broker, Linda Simpson was used to taking risks. But she says her biggest gamble was when she decided to launch a business around her first love: wine.

“I worked for a trading company selling commodities on behalf of clients, which was very exciting but pressurised,” says Linda, 51. “I handled it well and I enjoyed my job, but I knew it was easy to burn out. So I left.

“I had an interest in wine so studied for a diploma and began making contacts. When we moved out of London to the country I set up my own business called Explore Wine, buying and selling wine for investment. I also progressed in wine education and began running a local wine club.”

While many companies struggle, business is booming for Linda and she is in constantly in demand.

“I think being older means you have more experience to call on when it comes to making decisions, and you know what you want. I love my business because it’s something I enjoy and I know I am making people happy. That’s worth more to me than any City bonus.”

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