This is the average age of a successful start-up founder

21 August 2018 -

Start up Management skills matter so age is an advantage when founding a business

Emily Hill

There is encouraging news for any UK manager seized with an innovative idea for a start-up mid-career. According to research published by the Harvard Business Review, the average age of a successful start-up founder is 45 years old. Professional development and management experience are among the factors that prove age is an advantage when striking out in business.

Read more: professional management qualifications available through the Chartered Management Institute


This overturns a widespread preconception that if you want to be an entrepreneur you have to start early. For while it is true that many of the greatest start-ups in recent history were founded by relative youngsters, true success often came later on, in middle age. Yes, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are famous for starting their companies in their early 20s. But Jobs did not arrive at Apple’s most profitable product, the iPhone, until he was 52. And Amazon’s peak of success coincided with Jeff Bezos turning 45. Bezos’ leadership style is lauded and his leadership lessons and meetings approach is widely shared.

The results of the HBR study are conclusive. Entrepreneurs who are under 25 tend to perform less well than entrepreneurs in any other age bracket. ‘Performance seems steady among people aged between 25 and 35,’ the report says. ‘The success probability then starts to jump after the age of 35, jumping again at the age of 46 and remaining steady toward the age of 60.’


The Harvard Business Review found that work experience plays a critical role in business success. Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their start-up were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful start-up.

A desire to head a start-up is a common ambition among those heading into the management sector. The Chartered Management Institute’s 21st Century Leaders Report has shown that 84% of students studying business aspire to be a company leader while two-thirds hope to found their own one day. This has led some institutions to restructure their courses in order to help the manager-entrepreneurs of the future achieve that dream.

In 2017, for instance, Kent Business School adapted its programme to include a self-employed placement year and the study of entrepreneurialism in its management education. Last year, four students on the degree course were able to devote a year to turning one of their business ideas into a real company.

Currently, around 50% of UK start-ups fail and there are few ways for entrepreneurs to test out their skills. While some new university schemes represent a leap forward for those still in the academic system, a forward-thinking management sector would be wise to encourage such opportunities for those currently embarked on their careers – especially if the optimum time for start-up success strikes in middle-age.

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