There’s a common image associated with tech startups: the bright, young entrepreneur, fresh out of an elite university with an idea and a dream of bringing it to the world.
This image, however, isn’t very accurate after all, according to a recent survey by the Kauffman Foundation. After collecting data from over 500 US-born CEOs of engineering and technology companies, the information shows a drastically different picture of the people behind companies on the cutting edge of technology.
In fact, many of today’s tech entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not college-aged, and come from a whole range of colleges and universities, not just Ivy League or technical institutions. Unlike the stereotypical image of the college dropout starting a tech company in the garage, most of the survey group was well educated, with 92% of participants holding bachelor’s degrees, and 31% holding master’s degrees.
On average, US tech founders were 39 years old when they started their companies. Of the CEOs surveyed, the age for founding a business was far more likely to above 50 than below 25.
This is quite the departure from the stereotypical image of a young “geek” at the forefront of emerging tech business. Depending on their area of study and highest level of education achieved, the surveyed CEOs also reported a range of time passing between earning a degree and founding a company, spanning from 13 years for MBA holders, to 21 years for PhD holders.
These numbers vary between disciplines, but all are over a decade between graduation and the founding of a company.
This somewhat surprising, and much more accurate look at the CEO side of the tech world says a lot about the importance of real world business experience when founding a company. These CEOs didn’t build successful companies right of college (as the rare exceptions would have many people believe). Instead, they took their expertise out into the workforce, and learned the ropes of the industries from the inside.
Technical expertise will only go so far when building a business. Entrepreneurial experience, however, is invaluable for any industry. The time spent between college and starting a business is invaluable professional training, whether it’s working in the technical fields studied, or learning the ropes of small business while working with a startup or as a freelancer.
Despite that common image, propelled by the success stories of a young Mark Zuckerberg and the pop culture knowledge that Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, diving right into business ownership is not as common as we may think.
The real world experience gained in the decade or two after leaving a university is important to both personal growth and the long-term success of a business venture. Even those young exceptions that have skewed public perception of startup CEOs had experienced entrepreneurs to help guide the way.
To successfully grow a tech company, it takes technical knowledge, but it also takes the experience and know-how of being on the ground, actually participating in the day-to-day operations of a business – and that comes only from time spent on the job. The tech CEOs in the survey understand the importance of entrepreneurial experience, and waited until they felt knowledgeable to operate their companies with confidence.
Image credit: Dell Inc.