Monday, 19 August 2019


Recently I was passed in the street by someone uttering some rather depressing words.

“It’s so hard. I have to spend my time keeping tabs on my people making sure they do things properly.”

It must be fun working for him. But he, the joyless administrator,  is one reason the Start-Up revolution is gaining so much momentum.

The other is we live in a world of increasing uncertainty where economists and leading opinion makers  say with equally great conviction “we’re on the edge of a cliff” or “things will settle down quite quickly in reality”.

Few of us comprehend the macro-economy but we understand our own small world quite well. We know that big companies are not to be entirely trusted when it comes to “downsizing”. We are tired of being a number not a face. Better to strike out on our own in a rowing boat than stick with Titanic Limited.

Today I’m focusing on the middle aged entrepreneur.

George Clooney is 58. He recently sold his Tequila brand Cosamigos for $1billion. 

In a paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research middle aged start-ups are shown to grow faster and survive longer. The FT says over-50s now account for 43% of those who start their own business.

So what’s going on?

What I call the Start -Up Revolution is being fuelled from three sources – Millennials, who don’t want to work for the people like that lugubrious joker on whom I eavesdropped, women – many post maternity-leave to whom the thought of returning to office politics is too awful and the disenchanted, redundant over 50s loaded with experience, skill and enough surplus cash to fund a start-up.

David Rowan has written a book “Non-Bullshit Innovation” in which he explores the mindsets of global tech start-ups and their disruptive, white-sheet-of-paper thinking. He rightly criticises the British government’s constant postponement of decisions about strategic priorities.

It’s ironic we have so many assets to play with. Here are just a few:
- English is the world’s lingua franca
- We are huge in gaming technology
- We are big in film production
- Our creative industries are booming

- We are still dominant in financial services
- Climate change is giving us the agro-friendly climate of France in the 1980s
- We have become accomplished at customer service (about time)
- Our recent record in innovation from luxury goods to food to technology is impressive.

We don’t blow our own trumpets but as the middle aged increasingly flex their innovative muscles a fanfare is becoming more noticeable. Take gin where a generation of middle aged entrepreneurs have introduced the most exotic, interesting variety of new gins imaginable. Sales of gin have doubled in the past five years.

We hear a lot about Silicon Valley. It’s time we started to think regardless of Brexit of ourselves as “Innovation Island”. Driven by the ambitions, skill and independence of spirit of the experienced, as well as the young and hungry, we are in good shape.

Government won’t help us (they seldom do)  but they can at least get out of the way.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published in October by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

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