Senior entrepreneurs are on the rise

The media would have you believe that entrepreneurship is a young person’s game. However, senior entrepreneurs are a growing feature in Ireland’s business world. 

Just because many high-profile business owners are finding their feet at the age when most of their peers are just out of secondary school doesn’t mean that there’s no place in the business world for older entrepreneurs. In fact, according to a recent report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 4.6% of people aged 55 to 64 are early stage entrepreneurs. That might not seem like many, but it’s above the EU average (3.6%) and represents a steady rise in Ireland (from 3.5% in 2008).

There are also supports available for people over 50 who want to start a business in Ireland. Visit Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange (ISAX).

ISAX also runs ‘Ingenuity’, a new accelerator programme for mature business owners aged over 50 who are looking to scale-up their businesses. The programme, run in conjunction with DCU Ryan Academy, is one day a week spread over nine weeks.

Reasons for starting a business late

There are plenty of reasons to consider starting a business later in life. Here are just a few:

  • Experience: This is a huge part of identifying an opportunity and following through on it. Senior entrepreneurs can draw on much experience and are likely to stick with a new business idea. This is evidenced by figures in the UK, which show that 70% of early stage entrepreneurs over the age of 40 stay in business for more than five years, compared to 28% of those under 40.
  • Networks: Senior entrepreneurs have the benefit of a far wider network of contacts. This means more access to advice, potential partnerships and, crucially, credit.
  • Family connections: Many senior entrepreneurs find themselves getting involved in businesses to help children. For example, Peter Cullen founded Aran Candy in 1997 with his son Richard when he was 50 after an earlier venture failed. The business was sold for €15.5 million in 2014.
  • Funding: the chances of senior entrepreneurs having greater access to finances than their younger counterparts are higher, making it easier to realise business goals.
  • Time: retirees have plenty of time in which to occupy themselves. Many senior entrepreneurs find themselves eager to return to the business world following retirement, an exit from a previous venture, or after their family has been reared. For example, Fergal Keogh, chief executive and founder of aviation training and administration firm Simtech, returned to Ireland following a successful Middle Eastern venture. “I decided to leverage my years of commercial experience and use it to get a new business started. After all, there is only so much golf you can play!” he told Senior Enterprise.

Options and role models

For supports, visit Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange (ISAX). Also, the Senior Enterprise website is an excellent resource, with tips on what is involved in making an early stage business work, newsworthy content and events and conference information. Details on training courses are also posted if and when they become available. There are also details on role models that have launched businesses in later years, such as:

  • John Brophy, founder of Carrig Solutions: Brophy made the decision to start a business within 48 hours of being made redundant just before his 50th birthday. Since 2010, Carrig Solutions has provided IT infrastructure support to firms across Ireland and the UK and has grown impressively. “The advantage of being a little older when starting a business is that you know what doesn’t work,” he told Senior Enterprise.
  • Aine Cuddihy, founder of The Minicake Company: after retiring as a primary school teacher, Cuddihy put her love for cooking to good use by establishing the business in 2011. She started out at farmers’ markets, began supplying to local restaurants in Limerick and has since established a new company, Boucakery. “The first thing I believe people should do is look for support. Go to your local enterprise board and see what is available,” she said in a Senior Enterprise interview.
  • Jean Condron, chief executive and founder of Hats by Jean: Condron set up her latest venture in her early 50s, after making a hat for her daughter, who needed it for a wedding. Since then her hats have featured on TV3, and she has won the Wicklow County Enterprise Board Start Your Own Business Award. “With the children reared I now feel that I have the freedom to follow my dream,” she told Senior Enterprise.

Potential issues

There are always risks to consider in business. Starting a business in your later years is no different.

  • Transition considerations: Senior entrepreneurs may want to consider their exit or transition options, depending on their age and the potential of their business.
  • Technological literacy: Many senior entrepreneurs are not as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts. Ensure you’re up to speed by taking free online courses in relevant software packages, and keeping up to date with business trends.
  • Risk: A big plus in favour of younger entrepreneurs is that they often have nothing to lose when setting up a business. This is not the case with senior entrepreneurs, so make sure you have planned diligently for your venture.

4 Action Points

  • Seek advice. If you need to get advice beyond your informal network, make sure to check out and Senior Enterprise, and get in touch with your Local Enterprise Office (LEO).
  • Decide on your risk appetite. Starting a business involves risks. You need to decide what level of risk you are prepared to take and the implications for your assets (like your home), your pension and your finances. Seek advice from an accountant or another financial adviser.
  • Research the sector. Ensure you have relevant contacts and advisers in the sector in which you will be operating. Try not to stray too far from the area in which you have worked during your career.
  • Start learning. If you feel your technological skills (or any other skills, for that matter) aren’t up to scratch, brush up by taking online courses. Remember, there are thousands of free courses available online, so don’t make excuses for yourself.
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