"Young people are just smarter," Mark Zuckerberg once said.

"People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas," billionaire VC Vinod Khosla agreed.

These might be the most flagrant quotes, but according to a host of reports, the ageism they represent is rampant in Silicon Valley, with both investors and many founders convinced that if you want to change the world, you better not have any gray hairs. But is this folk wisdom that hoodies beat dad jeans for innovation actually backed up by data?

Everything you've heard about age and startup success is wrong.

As I've reported here on Inc.com before, there's already plenty of evidence that ageism is just another unjustified prejudice that makes it harder to build world-changing companies. Not only has research found that the average age of tech founders with a successful exit under their belt is a (relatively) mature 45, but history is also chock full of examples of wildly successful founders who started up after 35.

But if that wasn't enough data for you, new research out of MIT and the Kellogg School should put the nail in the coffin of the tired idea that more years equals less chance of startup success. The massive study mined records from tax filings and the Census Bureau to come up with huge list of 2.7 million business owners. The researchers were even able to narrow down the list to look specifically at the fastest growing 0.1 percent of tech companies.

In a long article for Quartz that digs into all the research on the relationship between age and startup success, Jake J. Smith, spotlights one jaw-dropping finding. Not only are the middle aged not dumber or dead in terms of new ideas, they're actually way more likely to start the most highly successful companies -- almost twice as likely, in fact.

"The data revealed that a founder who is 50 years old is 1.8 times more likely to start a top company than a 30-year-old founder, and that a 20-year-old founder has the worst chance of all," reports Smith

"The longer you've been around, the better your odds,"  Kellogg professor and study co-author Benjamin Jones commented, summing up the findings.

That should be a wakeup call not only for investors who are clearly leaving money on the table by focusing on youth above experience, but also for would-be founders who have been kicking around a few years. The research can't promise that you won't meet with prejudice because of your age, but it should put to bed any fears you might have that you're too old to change the world.

In fact, the science is now pretty definitive. More years makes you almost twice as likely to succeed as a startup founder.

Published on: Jun 19, 2018