Entrepreneurship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

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Want to back an entrepreneur? Best bet is to go for old

Neil Parmar

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2011

It only seemed like a matter of time before Time magazine was going to feature the image of a sharp, young entrepreneur on its Person of the Year cover.

After all, a new generation of fresh-faced executives has emerged from the ashes of old media and transformed the landscape through the web: Sergey Brin and Chad Hurley were both in their 20s when the former co-founded Google and the latter co-founded YouTube.

And if Facebook were a country today, with more than half a billion “friends” registered on the site, it would now be the third largest in the world.

That kind of accomplishment certainly helped Mark Zuckerberg, who created the site when he was just 19, become the new poster boy for the young entrepreneur movement. Not only has his story made it to the big screen in The Social Network, but he is also Time’s latest Person of the Year.

Regionally, there has also been plenty of recognition – and resources – aimed at young entrepreneurs as of late. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development is now accepting registrations for its latest young entrepreneur competition.

The Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development this month launched a campaign to nurture and develop the culture of entrepreneurship among young nationals.

The organisation’s goal: to instil the right attitude and skills so that young Emiratis might use “their passion as a springboard, and their ambition as fuel, to launch a successful business of their own”.

While all of these steps are key for turning on the innovative engines of the next generation, there must also be similar support provided to older entrepreneurs, closer to the age of Mr Zuckerberg’s parents.


Mounting evidence shows there is a higher number of older entrepreneurs than younger ones, and that often they are also more successful.

Just dig deeper into the high-tech world, which contrary to popular belief, is not overwhelmingly run by young innovators. One study from a Duke University researcher found that the average age of US-born entrepreneurs who founded their own technology firm was 39 years old.

The study also found there were twice as many technology company founders over the age of 50 than those younger than 25.

Part of the reason for this, of course, is that many mature entrepreneurs witness failed ventures and apply what they have learnt when creating a new start-up later in life.

These kinds of experiences can not be underestimated, as they help to build a surprising resilience and the ability to take on new risks even during economic downturns. As the recession dragged on in 2009 the number of business start-ups in the US reached its highest level in 14 years. Overall, it even exceeded the number of start-ups that were created during the peak of the technology boom at the turn of this century.

So who were the folks behind many of these start-ups? Those between the ages of 35 and 44 experienced the highest burst of growth in entrepreneurship in 2009, while those between 55 and 64 years also saw a large increase, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, one of the indicators of business creation in the US.

The boom was by no means confined to that year. It turns out that the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in every year between 1996 and 2007 belongs to the age group between 55 and 64 years.

Meanwhile those aged between 20 and 34, “which we usually identify with swashbuckling and risk-taking youth, has the lowest rate”, wrote Dan Stangler, one of Kauffman’s researchers in a report.

“Perhaps most surprising,” Mr Stangler added, “this disparity occurred during the 11 years surrounding the dot-com boom, when the young entrepreneurial upstart became a cultural icon.”

Besides their years of experience, older workers also carry with them lifelong dreams and ambitions that if fostered correctly can blossom into successful entrepreneurial ventures. Anecdotally, that often seems to happen some time during the midlifeyears when workers who are craving more exciting work decide to strike out on their own with a new business, sometimes even in the UAE.

It is no wonder then that about 80 per cent of all entrepreneurial activity, including the planning and setting up of a new business as well as the actual management of it, is conducted by those over the age of 35, research has shown. Those under 35, by comparison, account for the remaining 20 per cent or so.

Sometimes it really does take the old, and more experienced, to bring in something new.





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