Home Featured Slider Why create a program to support over 50s entrepreneurs? Isn’t that ageist?

Why create a program to support over 50s entrepreneurs? Isn’t that ageist?


When we launched the 30under30 Awards, in 2008, the rationale was simple.

We had observed a shift taking place in the structure of the Australian workforce.

As we explained in the aptly titled cover story of our December 2007 print edition, Shift Happens:

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the age with the most number of people in Australia is currently 34 years.

This corresponds to children born during the baby-boom ‘echo’ in the early 1970s and represents the peak of Generation X.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a shock that a similarly popular age is 58 (the parents of X).

What generally does come as a surprise is the stampede of 22 year-olds, who are about to give this hour-glass population breakdown a good shake-up, concluding with a very heavy bottom end.

Yes, within ten years the structure of the working population could look, simply, pear-shaped, with Generation Y representing close to half the workforce. The peak age groups will be 32, 44 and 68, in that order.”

By this time in the evolution of Anthill, our Cool Company Awards had already developed into a popular program for recognising and promoting entrepreneurial companies. And since then, we have added the SMART 100 Index, as a program for recognising and promoting Australian innovations.

The goal of the 30under30 awards was to recognise and promote innovative and entrepreneurial people.

Get ’em when they’re young

Our aim was a bold one, fuelled by the wonderful naivety of… you guessed it… youth.

As a team of largely 20-somethings, we wanted to give the culture of Australia a personality overhaul. We wanted to make Australians aspire to become global leaders, rather than global followers. We wanted to help Australians appreciate our lack of internationally recognised brands and aspire to change this embarrassing state of affairs. We wanted to make Australia less dependent on primary industries and imported technologies. We wanted to make Australia more than a farm and mine for the world.

These are pursuits that we still hold dear. And, few could argue, that the most sensible way to achieve any bold goal is to target the next generation of influencers.

In short, by creating champions, our plan was to help develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among young Australians (something that our formal education system generally lacks). We hoped to make entrepreneurship infectious.

And, in that sense, the program has proved highly successful.

In 2010, the 30under30 awards entered its third year. Past winners are building companies, creating industries and inspiring their peers to… build companies, create industries and inspire their peers. Each year, past winners refer new winners, creating a growing alumni of young Australian entrepreneurs (many of whom are now extremely well-known and respected within Australian business communities).

However, not all our readers have been enamoured with the program

The main criticism (perhaps the only criticism) that has been consistently levelled at the 30under30 Awards, year after year, has been its focus on the young.

Youth is a state of mind

It’s been rightly pointed out to us that youth is a state of mind. It has been equally accurately brought to our attention that the program is ageist.

However, we have always felt quite justified pointing out that:

  1. Our goal has always been to change culture by targeting the young (an approach that is hard to fault when aspiring to change the views of a nation for the long-term)
  2. Anthill already hosts other programs to recognise entrepreneurs that have successfully built companies (something that generally requires experience and the passage of time)
  3. It’s almost impossible to measure the achievements of a 26 year-old entrepreneur against those of a 56 year-old (simply because one party has had more decades to ‘get it right’)

I hope that these three bullet points will answer those critics once and for all.

But, on one important point, we were wrong.

The other half of the equation

The 30under30 program only operates to address part of the problem.

The statistics cited above relate to the working population (as then perceived) and not the living population. It’s now well understood that the Australian population is ageing and this state of affairs is likely to place a greater and greater burden on younger Australia’s to produce the wealth needed to cover the cost.

This also works to support programs like the 30under30. But what it doesn’t do is recognise and promote the boom in Australian startups fuelled by the other half of the equation.

Rise of the silver surfer

Many baby-boomers might be nearing retirement but most are far from retired.

Many members of this very driven (and notoriously outspoken) generation are embracing the freedom of an empty nest, turning their backs on once stable corporate careers and employing wisdom earned to serve their own ends.

They are surfing away from careers built around the expectations of the generation that came before (their parents) and into new opportunities that weren’t previously available, unless they had deep wallets and “connections”.

This observation naturally forces the question, why enable the young to support an ageing population when many of these over-50s ‘upstarts’ are more than capable of enabling themselves?

It’s a big question and one without a simple answer. But it did influence our thinking (that and all the lobbying), which is why, this year, we decided to launch the 5over50.

Why only five? What are the rules?

We know what you’re thinking.

Why not recognise 50 entrepreneurs over the age of 50?

Well, to be frank, we simply don’t have the resources to embark on such a grand undertaking in the program’s inaugural year. Will we change the game next year? Only time will tell.

What’s to stop this turning into another back-slapping exercise for the same small set?

When pulling together the rules, we were certain of one thing. This program would not be designed to recognised ‘captains of industry’.

Rather, the goal is to identify startup entrepreneurs — individuals with less than five years spent in the rough and tumble world of new business creation.

Will there be categories and criteria?

We haven’t yet devised individual categories, such as New Media, Retail, Manufacturing etcetera. We’re keen to first observe the types of people who enter and then make those types of decisions.

In terms of criteria, we’ll be applying the same measures that we apply to the ‘youngens’.

The evolution of awards

Like all Anthill initiatives, the 5over50 will operate as an ever-evolving experiment.

We welcome your feedback and hope that you will support us as we recognise an irrepressible set of game-changers, who have escaped the rat-race to create companies, jobs and challenge the status quo.

To nominate a deserving entrepreneur, click the button or follow the link.