Wednesday
Jan252012

Incubate Up

Teens in Tech, a stellar organization supporting young entrepreneurs, announced its new "2012 Teens in Tech Incubator" program. As a young entrepreneur, I couldn't be more excited. I'm a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council and am thrilled these groups are working hard on initiatives to create more founders.

In writing The Coolest Startups in America, it's clear that other demographics need support too. First, female founders undoubtedly could use further bostering. Interestingly, another under-the-radar group would use incubation too: established older folks. 

Based on research from the Founder Institute, there's a positive correlation between age and startup success, up to the age of 40 after which there's little to no correlation. To me this means that if we'd like to see more innovation happen, we should encourage older people to start up too. And it's often difficult for them, I found.

Anecdotally, it was not *too* hard for me to walk away from full-time employment to found a startup because I'm in my 20s with a small rent bill to support. I can imagine the difficulty of that decision being amplified if I were an established industry veteran with a family to support. Even if there are more savings in the bank in the latter example, making the leap would be so much more difficult because more stakeholders are involved. Yet, these very people often have tremendous value to deliver in terms of industry expertise and knowledge. Entrepreneurship and innovation in the US would benefit greatly from these people joining the startup community.

I see two ways to encourage them:

  1. Develop more industry-specific incubators (e.g. Rock Health); as they require in-depth industry expertise, they'll skew older age while capturing people who have caught the startup bug.
  2. Develop more "intrapreneurs." The startup ecosystem may not benefit in its usual way, but as a whole, innovation would increase while involving established industry insiders.

I learned a lot about the latter concept from partners at Prehype, an innovation architecture consultancy. Prehype works with large companies to develop innovation from within, by finding and cultivating entrepreneurial employees in startup projects that are separated from the core functions of the firm while remaining under the company's umbrella. 

This model is ideal for a variety of reasons beyond engaging older entrepreneurs. It also increases retention at firms and reduces M&A risks (i.e. integration problems) for the company too.

Are there other initiatives to get more people at all points of the age spectrum into entrepreneurial ventures?

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