Marty Gindi found the job market unwelcoming to a man his age. David Klein was looking for a little career reinvention. Michael Isaacman was fed up with an industry obsessed by “how cheap you can make it.”
These are just three of the many who have taken what may seem like an especially treacherous leap—starting a business after turning 50. They, and others like them, are defying accepted wisdom that founders, especially those in tech, need to be barely old enough to drink. Or that, as the then-56-year-old venture capitalist Vinod Khosla famously told an audience a few years ago, people under 35 “make change happen” while those over 45 “basically die in terms of new ideas.”
Such well-seasoned entrepreneurs are no exceptions. Between 1996 and 2013, Americans between ages 55 and 64 started companies at a higher rate than those 20 to 34, according to research by the Kauffman Foundation. Indeed, 55- to 64-year-olds accounted for a quarter of all new ventures in 2013. And many are serial impresarios, churning out one startup after another.
There’s even an ecosystem that’s developed to help these graying risk-takers rev their entrepreneurial engines. “The biggest challenge is not access to capital, but access to learning how to do it and to a supportive community infrastructure,” said Elizabeth Isele, co-founder of the website Senior Entrepreneurship Works.
Far from being fresh out of ideas or energy, older entrepreneurs bring advantages the youngsters can neither muster nor fake: invaluable experience, prolific networks, management skills, industry knowledge and an intuitive sense of what works—and what doesn’t.
“The older a person is, the more likely they are to be an entrepreneur,” said Edward Rogoff, director of Baruch College’s Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Business. “Young entrepreneurs who have been successful get a lot of attention, but they’re rare. Older entrepreneurs start bigger businesses and are more likely to be successful.”
An affinity for risk
Which isn’t to say the older set is a bunch of overconfident daredevils. This group watched the latest recession eat away at their savings, leaving them with less time to recoup losses and more cause to be risk-averse. “From a financial perspective, this was clearly not the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” said Paolo Gaudiano of his startup, Infomous, noting he has yet to see any returns. “But I like risk and have always felt that if I have a good idea and can put my best effort into it, I should pursue it.”
If risk-taking has no age limit, neither does the vision to imagine something new nor the drive to make it a reality. Here are 13 local entrepreneurs who prove that some dogs are never too old to learn a new trick or two.
BY JUDITH MESSINA