Generalizations about any demographic are inexact and often anecdotal. But people who have observed entrepreneurs in different age groups have found some common characteristics among older founders. They say compared with younger founders, Boomer entrepreneurs are:

Responsible: Elizabeth Isele, CEO of the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship, works to persuade banks to provide older entrepreneurs access to capital. Young people, she says, are often comfortable taking big chances with money--both their own and other people's. By contrast, "seniors access capital on a per-need basis. They are very unwilling to overextend," she says. "The senior entrepreneur will do everything possible to repay that debt."

Tough to coach: Paul Riser, managing director of technology-based entrepreneurship at TechTown Detroit, says older founders are often resistant to the kind of coaching paramount for startup leaders. "It's understandable that someone with 30-plus years of experience may not want [help] from someone who is half as senior in the industry," says Riser. "But they may never have built or led a team, and they will need help with it."

Disciplined: Jeff Williams, CEO of BizStarters, created training programs for entrepreneurs of all ages until 1996, when he switched his focus to people 50 and over. "It was very frustrating working with the younger entrepreneurs," says Williams. "They weren't disciplined. They weren't realistic about outcomes. Older entrepreneurs follow the steps. Plus, they have money. Younger people never have money."

Empathetic: Videk Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford's Rock Center for Corporate Governance, agrees that entrepreneurs in their 20s are well-equipped to launch social media companies. But as the old--and the very old--represent a growing part of the population, their needs are better understood by founders of comparable age. "Older entrepreneurs know the problems because they are solving their own problems," says Wadhwa. "Just like these kids with Snapchat and Instagram and so on are solving their own problems. And the older people have more problems than the kids do."

Published on: Mar 9, 2017