Feb 14, 24

10 Ways Age 45+ Businesspeople Can Help Start-ups Launch and Small Businesses Increase Growth Rates

Canada’s “Lack of Entrepreneurial Culture” Won’t be Solved by University Courses


BDC: Half as Many Canadians Start Businesses vs. 20 Years Ago

The BDC’s recent report, “Entrepreneurship in Motion” revealed that although 14% of Canadians have entrepreneurial aspirations, only 0.13% actually start a company – half the rate of 20 years ago.  It also found that despite our population growth of 10 million in the past 2 decades, Canada has 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs than then.

Scott Stirrett, chief executive of Venture for Canada captures this state well: “Canada’s insufficiently entrepreneurial culture poses an existential risk to our country’s future.” And “Canada can have extremely well-thought-out policies that foster innovation, but if we don’t have an entrepreneurial culture, those strategies will not amount to much. Culture really does eat strategy for breakfast.”

Our “lack of entrepreneurial culture”, as Stirrett calls it, goes further. Canada has long been weak in its internationalization of our businesses. And we have low scale-up rates. Only 0.1% of Canadian small businesses become medium-sized and only 2% become large. Meanwhile, attrition rates are high, as 1/3 of new businesses close within 5 years and 2/3 close within 15 years (BDC). The Globe & Mail/Canadian Press recently reported that business insolvencies increased by 42% in the 3rd quarter 2023 vs. a year ago.

Well we may not have a large Canadian cohort of multigenerational entrepreneurs to mentor new business owners. But we do have a growing population of age 45+ businesspeople who can guide start-ups, small and medium-sized businesses through specific functional challenges, which will drive new business formation and business scale-up, ultimately accelerating our shift to a more entrepreneurial culture. Age 45+ expertise can certainly help many aspiring entrepreneurs overcome their top reason for not launching their business idea: fear of failure.


 Entrepreneurial Culture Could be Encoded by Tapping into Experienced Businesspeople

The BDC report includes suggestions that we address our weak entrepreneurial culture through university scholarships and teaching “grit”.  I am skeptical about both of those ideas. Having founded 4 companies and lived and worked in the USA for 6 years, with both a WiFi pioneering technology start-up and a fast growth large consumer-facing company, I see a very different ethos at play there than here in Canada.

The US ethos normalizes and celebrates entrepreneurship and risk taking. In Canada, it is a rarity and often seen as too risky compared to a job in government, banks, or a profession (doctors, dentists, lawyers). Immersion in an entrepreneurial culture like the US breeds an expectation that starting a business is a good career path, and its commonness provides many opportunities for support and mentorship from other entrepreneurs. I am not at all convinced that entrepreneurship can be fostered significantly by providing university courses on it: it is learned by doing isn’t it? And if people are not predisposed to entrepreneurship, why would they take those courses? I also think that the grit necessary to persevere through the challenges of entrepreneurship is much more innate than taught/learned.

However, all is not lost. In the absence of a large cohort of entrepreneurs in Canada, we do have a workaround. The aging of our population combined with increased longevity endows us with a growing population of experienced businesspeople still highly productive as they age. They are certainly able to provide the knowledge and wisdom to help entrepreneurs start companies, help start-ups improve trajectories and success rates, help small and medium-sized businesses to scale up and help them all to compete in our domestic economy dominated by large companies.

Even if the experienced businesspeople - Scotiabank calls people in their 50s and 60s “overlooked and underutilized” - have not been entrepreneurs, as a pool their functional experience and soft skills can help guide entrepreneurs in many different contexts and business stages. Each of them can provide specific “pieces of the puzzle” – addressing the key reasons for business failure. Even in the dawning era of artificial intelligence, the knowledge and wisdom from experience are needed more than ever, as an AI focused HR services company, Eightfold.ai, asserts.

There’s no need for our economy to suffer a severe brain drain as experienced businesspeople head toward and into retirement, especially when we face skills and knowledge worker shortages. We have an opportunity to retain that valuable business experience, especially if we can satisfy age 45+ wishes to work on their terms - when, how much, where - and motivations - purpose, engagement, activity, being of value, legacy, and financial. Some age 45+ only want to work occasionally, to provide advice in a meeting or 2, others want project, contract, or retainer work that may involve more time commitments, and some seek permanent part-time or full-time work.

In essence, the motivations of businesses are perfectly addressed by age 45+ businesspeople, and vice versa.


10 Reasons Canadian Small & Medium-sized Businesses Fail and The 10 Ways Age 45+ Expertise Therefore Helps Them

The following 10 key reasons Canadian businesses fail are synthesized from a number of reports. They are posed as questions, because the answers are what different older businesspeople, from all functions and seniorities, help fill in those knowledge gaps. Entrepreneurs themselves, surveyed by BDC, prefer to learn from peers and mentors, and age 45+ expertise can do that.

  1. Market Intelligence: Not understanding the target market well enough. Is there a product – market opportunity? Does the proposed solution actually fit?
  2. Business Plan and Strategy: Is there a well thought out approach to launch and growth?
  3. Financial Literacy: Are the key #s understood?
  4. Access to Financing: Is there an understanding of the various funding options and requirements?
  5. Marketing Strategy: Is there cohesive and effective marketing, sales, and business development?
  6. Human Resources: Have mistakes been made on timing and profile of hires and contractors?
  7. Management: Is there adaptability to the evolving challenges and inspiration to staff?
  8. Company Awareness and Reputation: Are target customers aware of and think positively about the company?
  9. Competition: Is the company able to compete in the marketplace?
  10. Rapid Growth: Has the company grown too fast, at the cost of blind spots and mistakes?

Of course, age 45+ businesspeople provide a broader set of benefits, including helping business owners with valuable additional capacity, which can reduce the mental health strain many owners endure from working excessive hours. They can also provide insights to deal with emerging needs such as DEI and ESG/sustainability and big opportunities like international expansion.


Overcoming 2 Challenges: Ageism and Accessing Age 45+ Businesspeople

Kickstarting our entrepreneurial culture in this way will require overcoming 2 key challenges:

  • Ageism – embracing the “strategic imperative” to leverage experienced businesspeople, and enable age-agnostic value creation: that’s up to you and your business; and
  • Finding age 45+ business expertise – quickly and cost-effectively; that’s now solved by a new online marketplace, Elderberry.work.


Overcoming Ageism: A Strategic Imperative

Our aging population is far from the crisis many have said it is. But it takes a new and improved perspective on the full socioeconomic costs and benefits from older workers to appreciate that. Enlightened business leaders are leveraging our age 45+ contributions, because they have put a proper lens on the experienced worker value proposition, which considers:

a) The 45+ Don't Age Like Their Parents Did: No Correlation Between Age and Productivity

People age differently now than your parents and grandparents did. People are living longer, and many are living healthier lives – which means their added longevity is experienced as highly productive, extended middle age, rather than additional years in ill health tagged onto the end of life. The definition of “old” has basically been pushed back 20 years.

b) Ageism: Outdated Thinking that’s Been Debunked

Businesspeople can start to experience ageism by the age of 45, earlier in some sectors, as the OECD found.  Ageism remains prevalent despite the fact that, as Mercer points out, the 3 drivers of it have been debunked. Older workers are:

  • not lower in productivity;
  • not more expensive; and
  • not change resistant nor technology challenged.

c) The Competitive Advantage Opportunity: Age 45+ Businesspeople

The growing chorus of businesses and commentators who recognize the immense strategic imperative of leveraging age 45+ businesspeople to help drive business innovation, growth and competitive advantage includes Bain, McKinsey, Scotiabank, Mercer, OECD, World Economic Forum, Stanford, MIT, Harvard, London Busines School.

I call it “age-agnostic value creation”, because all of the many businesses and organizations I’ve been involved with of course seek value creation. However, their often unacknowledged and inherent ageist bias currently can impede the ability to enable older worker contributions. Others have called it an ”Ageless Universe” 3rd State and YOUAREUNLTD.


The 5 Ways Age 45+ Businesspeople Continue Creating Business Value

This is a short summary of the 5 reasons. For the full articulation, see my blog on it.

  1. Functional Expertise, which can Address the Knowledge Worker “Shortage”

Statscan reported that our skilled and knowledge worker “shortage” is actually more of a mismatch, meaning businesses have a hard time finding the relevant expertise they need, but that it is available somewhere they can’t access.

  1. Knowledge, Wisdom, and Judgement Needed Even With AI

Age 45+ businesspeople have extended learning curves, informing nuanced judgement. The higher value add for business is in the knowledge and wisdom, which consider future orientations, rather than lagging data and information that even inexperienced people can assess well.

  1. Soft Skills, including Communication, Collaboration, Accountability

Soft skills include collaboration/ teamwork, active listening, responsibility/accountability, and patience. The BDC report found that these are critical to the success of entrepreneurs. Age 45+ businesspeople provide good examples for younger staff to learn from.

  1. Multigenerational Teams’ Superior Productivity

Studies have found that multigenerational teams are more productive, building a stronger talent pipeline, providing a greater diversity of skills and perspectives, and better retention of knowledge workers.

  1. Cost-efficiency

Given their career arc and their respective motivations, many age 45+ businesspeople provide a cost-effective source of talent and expertise, especially if they can work on their own terms, when, where, and how much they want.


Finding Age 45+ Businesspeople Efficiently: New Platform Elderberry.work

KPMG Canada’s survey of small and medium businesses found that 84% of them cannot find the talent to match their needs. Can you imagine the individual and aggregate socio-economic benefit if companies could find the right talent?

A new online services marketplace, Elderberry.work, now makes the matching quick, easy, and cost-effective. Both businesses and age 45+ businesspeople can satisfy their needs. We are faster and cheaper than recruiters, consultancies, and online job boards.

We attract age 45+ businesspeople from all functions, seniorities, and industries, who list their business expertise, including many who are not already consulting. We make becoming a freelancer easy to do, attract potential customers, and handle payments processing. Age 45+ can also browse the jobs posted by businesses.

Businesses can both post their job requirements – advisory, contract, all the way to full-time hires – and browse the age 45+ expertise listings.

Since there is a trend toward experienced businesspeople creating new companies, there will be lots of age 45+ being both the expertise provider and the business customer.

Elderberry.work is a social enterprise, which means we put helping age 45+ and businesses ahead of making profits. And it means we are a great opportunity for age 45+ businesspeople who are newcomers to Canada, and those from underserved communities, to market themselves and find potential customers. Keep up to date with us by subscribing to our newsletter, or following us on LinkedIn and Facebook


About Author David Smith

Elderberry.work founder and CEO David Smith has over 25 years of business experience, as an executive with large multinational blue chip companies, and with technology start-ups and small and medium businesses and other organizations, in Canada, US, and internationally. He has started 4 companies, including 2 consulting companies where clients included businesses of all sizes, governments, associations, and NGOs.