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The Secrets of Highly Successful Young Entrepreneurs

Getting a head start may help founders, but learning and taking risks are key to growth

By | Deborah Lynn Blumberg |

In entrepreneurial circles, there’s a long-running, often contentious debate about who’s ultimately more successful — middle-aged founders or those who launch ventures in their 20s and 30s. Recent research has shown the average age of successful startup founders is 45. Yet founders under 40 run more than 40% of all new firms.

Plenty of well-known entrepreneurs got an early start. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs began their companies when they were in their 20s, contributing to the popular belief that the most successful entrepreneurs start young. (As the 22-year-old Zuckerberg stated, “Young people are just smarter.”) Those who see middle-aged founders as more accomplished say older founders’ years of experience and lessons learned contribute to their outsized success.

Kathryn Shaw, a professor of economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, contributes to the ongoing discussion with a new paper coauthored with Anders Sørensenopen in new window of Copenhagen Business School. Their research finds that founders in their mid-20s to early 30s learn and invest over time and can ultimately run new firms that are even more productive than those founded by older entrepreneurs.

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