Older Entrepreneurs More Numerous, Successful

Studies find advancing age is a plus when starting a business

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Roger La Chance of REL Distributors
Photo:Harriet Jones
Older Entrepreneurs More Numerous, Successful
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Older Entrepreneurs More Numerous, Successful

If you want to start your own business, your age may be a critical factor in your success. But not in the way you might imagine. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

Picture an entrepreneur. Are you thinking of a young, intense 20-something, up all night writing computer code? The reality, more often than not, is at the other end of the age spectrum.

“This is my place of business, which is two filing cabinets and a used laptop and a used monitor. Starting a new business you’ve really got to improvise.”

Meet Roger La Chance, 57 years old, at home in East Windsor and a newly minted entrepreneur. La Chance spent his entire career in industrial manufacturing, climbing the corporate ladder.

“You get into a certain age bracket and you’re in a corporate job, and you have this intuition that something just isn’t right.”

That intuition proved correct – last year, he was laid off.

“And driving home that day, I said to myself, I’m just not going back into a factory again, I’m just not going back in any more.”

After some research and a session with a consultant, La Chance bought a franchise.

“And then inside, these are two chest freezers. If you’re in business for yourself, you’ve got to figure out how to do everything yourself. So you say, well how do you get this freezer in the back of the truck – I actually had to make my own ramps.”

His new company, REL Distributors, sells frozen fruit and yogurt bars, and a selection of other health foods, purchased from his California parent company, Happy and Healthy Products.

“What I do is I go and talk to the retailer, I introduce him to the product, walk him through the presentation of what the products are all about. And if he agrees, I load a freezer in the back of my pickup truck, with the product he’s ordered. His job is to sell the retail part of it. My job is make sure he never runs out of products.”

La Chance started with a loan backed by the Small Business Administration. It was funded by the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, a Hamden based non-profit that specializes in non-traditional lending. The corporation’s president, Mark Cousineau says clients like La Chance are coming through his doors more and more often.

“We’re seeing folks that have been downsized, in their forties and fifties, with very few employment options.”

Many of these people have a lifetime of experience, but they’ve always been used to a regular paycheck.

“You can be a very skilled mechanic, but can you really run your own garage?”

In fact, Cousineau does believe the older entrepreneur’s experience can be an asset.

“When we’re looking at a startup, we’re always looking at a combination of a bunch of things, but one of them is – what’s your industry experience? We feel that if you have good industry experience and good technical skills that’s a great starting point and hopefully we can teach you the business skills.”

That hunch, that experience counts, is actually borne out by the data.

“A lot of things that come with age seem to help make better entrepreneurs.”

That’s Adeo Ressi, CEO of the Founder Institute and a serial entrepreneur in the tech field. He started his first company at 21, and now, at age 40, he’s pleased to say, he’s only gotten better with age. The Institute carried out a study in 2010 that tracked a thousand entrepreneurs, and examined the independent variables that contributed to their success.

“So we have found that the older you are, until approximately the age of 40 the more likely that you will be to succeed as an entrepreneur.”

After age 40 increasing age was not a hindrance, but it made no difference to success rates. Ressi says the findings may indicate that we’re looking in the wrong places for successful business starts.

“Focusing an enormous amount of government resources on entrepreneurship programs in the universities is probably a poor allocation of time and money.”

Another study, this time from the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship finds that despite our pop culture image of the typical entrepreneur, it is older people in increasing numbers who are starting their own businesses. In every year since the mid-90s, the group with the lowest rate of entrepreneurship was those aged 20 to 34. The group with the highest rate? Those age 55 to 64. Right in that sweet spot, Roger La Chance says while his new life is insecure and very hard work, he wouldn’t go back.

“It’s really interesting when you talk to people and they’re 56 years old and the only thing they’re focused on is, -- I can’t wait till I get to 62. And I’m thinking to myself “why?”  Why are you thinking that way? Why aren’t you thinking what will I be doing at 62.”

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.