Genius in a dorm room?: The myth of the young entrepreneur

If you think it’s too late to start your own business, think again.

A new study challenges the myth of the typical entrepreneur asĀ  some incredibly gifted college kid who started their high-growth companies in their dorm rooms (think Bill Gates or Michael Dell). The Kauffman Foundation’s study, The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur, sheds light on the average entrepreneur and their motivations after surveying 549 company founders of successful businesses in aerospace, defense, computing, electronics and health care.

What does the average entrepreneur look like? Some of the findings:

  • The average age of an entrepreneur starting their first company is 40
  • Entrepreneurs are family-oriented: nearly 70% were married when they became entrepreneurs and 60% had at least one child
  • Only 52% of company founders surveyed had some interest in entrepreneurship while in college
  • Entrepreneurs came primarily from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds (very few came from backgrounds of extreme wealth or poverty) and they tended to be the middle child in a three-child household
  • Entrepreneurs were more likely to have worked at least six years before starting their business
  • Entrepreneurship is not necessarily a family trait – more than half (51.9%) of those surveyed were the first person in their families to start their own business.

According to the study, many entrepreneurs are highly experienced and well-educated family people who had tired of working for others and decided to branch out on their own instead. Their motivations for doing so were primarily building wealth, but other motivations included capitalizing on a business idea, the appeal of a start-up culture, a desire to own a company and a lack of interest in working for someone else.

So if you feel you might have missed the boat in your younger years by not cultivating your own entrepreneurial tendencies, rest assured that it’s never too late to start. An oft-repeated case of successful entrepreneurship at a older age is Harland “Colonel” Sanders, the founder of KFC. The story goes something like this: When the construction of a new interstate disrupted the number of customers that visited his restaurant at a highway service station, Harland decided to franchise it at the age of 65. He took $105 from his first Social Security cheque to visit potential franchisees and is rumoured to have received over 1000 rejections before landing the first franchisee. The rest is history.

But perhaps even more impressive than the Colonel Sanders story are those that remain entrepreneurial well into their 80s. As people live longer, it’s becoming more common to take on a second entrepreneurial career that lasts well into retirement: check out “8 Entrepreneurs Over 80″ and an article on those who choose to run a business instead of retire: “Why 80 is the New 30”.

Interested in becoming an entrepreneur? Check out our upcoming CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 course, offered weekly Wednesdays 5:30-6:30pm starting September 30, 2009. Registration is free and the course covers all the basics of starting a business for technology and social entrepreneurs.