After analyzing high-growth companies in the United States, a team of economists discovered that most superstar entrepreneurs are middle-aged. Their study is being published in the journal American Economic Review: Insights. The New York Times reports: The researchers looked at start-ups established between 2007 and 2014 and analyzed the top 0.1 percent — defined as those with the fastest growth in employment and sales. The average age of those companies’ founders was 45. There are, of course, famous counterexamples. Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he co-founded Facebook. Bill Gates was 19 when he founded Microsoft with Paul Allen. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. The origin stories of those companies and a handful of others helped to shape a myth that tech, and American innovation overall, is fueled by wunderkinds. But fresh-faced founders are the exception, not the rule, according to the study. The new study was able to zero in on high-flying start-ups by bringing together anonymized data collected by different agencies within the federal government. The government matched sales and employment data for start-ups collected by the Census Bureau with information on the founders extracted from Internal Revenue Service filings. After stripping identifying information, the government provided the researchers with a data set including 2.7 million business founders. The researchers calculated that the founders’ average age was 42. And for the founders of the 0.1 percent fastest-growing firms, the average age was 45. Firms that were successful enough to have an initial public offering or be acquired by a larger company showed the same pattern: Their founders were generally middle-aged.
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