A call to action - meeting the needs of "atypical" entrepreneurs
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. The image many of us have of entrepreneurs is that of young energetic twenty somethings out to change the world or to carve off their own piece of it. I am a 50ish woman with a very long history of working in large to midsize corporations but I haven’t lost that passion to change the world.
There are a few things that resulted in the entrepreneurial direction. First, I am a problem solver and a process geek with a passion for leadership development, strategic planning, and organizational outcomes. The second thing is I “met” the Malcom Baldrige Performance Excellence criteria in the early 1990’s. If you haven’t heard of it, a quick Google search will show you the best kept leadership framework secret.
As I reach the age where some are planning their path to retirement, my plan is to work in areas where my knowledge base continues to develop and to help organizations improve their organizational outcomes. Like many “mature” knowledge workers, I am not ready to park in a recliner and watch the world go by. I have many things left to do. So I started looking for ways to continue to work and thrive. I decided to solve a problem experienced many times throughout my corporate career. The problem is that many organizations struggle with effective strategic and tactical planning that remains “real” and relevant throughout the planning period. The resulting product integrates both passions described above, resulting in organizational planning software. I am having the time of my life doing this work and can’t imagine stopping.
An article was published in March by Fortune.com: “What it is like to Be an Older Woman Entrepreneur in Silicon Valley”. I admit to being horrified by the experiences of Anita Brearton and Sheryl Schultz whose advice is: “Don’t give up, no matter how many ridiculous, insulting things are said to you by the mostly male venture capitalists you will inevitably encounter”. I was saddened to read their experience, but not surprised. While the focus of the article was gender based and a real issue, I think there is merit in also looking at it as an age issue, impacting both genders.
As an entrepreneur with a year in the startup world, I have learned the following. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is designed to focus on young startups. This is important and I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be a focus there. However, if you consider that retirement isn’t what it was for our grandparents and parents as companies eliminate retirement benefits, employee years of service decline, and the working model evolves to be “gig” based, turning to entrepreneurship is a logical solution for those who wish to continue their work careers. The problems being solved by these entrepreneurs are frequently identified due to many years of working experience and education. It’s a different approach to entrepreneurship than you see with startups founded by younger entrepreneurs, but viable and important. These entrepreneurs also bring a level of maturity and discipline important in a startup organization.
Kansas City has a robust number of resources for startups, but when you look into the focus of the programs, many are designed for the 20 something founder. I was fortunate to find BetaBlox, who took our company in even though it was not their typical company. We’ve had a wonderful experience there and continue to be very active in services provided. As we look to scale our business, we started identifying opportunities to increase the resources for late career stage entrepreneurs.
So here is the call to action to those who wish to offer entrepreneurial support to startups. Broaden the view of the archetype of an entrepreneur. Consider broadening the scope of programs and services offered to be inclusive of entrepreneurs of all life stages and experiences. Entrepreneurs have passion, energy, enthusiasm, and a desire to change the world. These elements are not age or gender bound.
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