Is the innovation ecosystem wasted on the young? Why startups aren’t just for those starting out in life.

By Professor Tonya M. Evans

Why startups aren’t just for those starting out in life

Innovation isn’t just for the young (READ: Millennials & Gen Zers of the world). Sometimes youth actually impedes success in the latest wild, wild west that is innovation and tech. Experience, knowledge, and wisdom after a few decades of earning and learning are evergreen and invaluable, in my humble (and mature) opinion. I believe that life-long, intellectually curious learners are also (and especially) poised to contribute and, of course, to profit.

Neha Trhiani Bahri wrote about this topic earlier this year in an article published by Quartz Magazine. She explained that although the startup ecosystem seems to “worship the young,” research actually shows that people are most innovative when they’re older. Bahri cites a 2016 study (pdf) by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation “that looked at the demographics of over 900 individuals who have made high-value meaningful, marketable contributions to technology-heavy industries in the US.” The findings are illuminating and very encouraging for those entering or already in the second or third chapters of life: 

The study found that the overall median age of innovators was 47 years old. Only 5.8% of the sample—which ranged in age from 18 to 80—was 30 years or younger, and innovation peaked between the ages of 46 and 50. The rate of innovation continues to be very high until the age of 55 and declined sharply after 65, the median expected retirement age in the US.

The study also asserts that “U.S. innovators actually tend to be experienced and highly educated—and most hold advanced degrees in the fields of science and technology.” In fact, most high-value patents are held by patentees with advanced degrees in the fields of science and tech. This 2016 study is consistent with the findings of a 2009 study (pdf) by John Walsh at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Sadao Nagaoka at the Hitotsubashi University in Japan.

Bottom line? The innovation space has plenty of room for the Boomers and Gen Xers [insert rousing round of applause]. In fact, it is essential that these segments of the population fully embrace tech and innovation and leverage education, experience, and wisdom with the exciting and innovative opportunities that currently exist and those yet to be created or discovered.

Three things you can do right now:


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