Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)
There is strength in numbers. Typically this refers to headcount or strategic partnerships, but the saying also aptly describes how age diversity among entrepreneurs and those on a startup team can lend critical strength. Accelerators and incubators know this, which is partly why they put mentorship programs in place to solidify startups’ growth. Entrepreneur support organization ITEN takes the same approach with its mentorship programs, which pairs volunteer mentors with entrepreneurs for one-on-one coaching.
We sat down with three individuals, each of a different generation, to get their perspectives on age and what part it plays, if any, in building their businesses.
Name: Aditya Eachempati
Generation: Baby Boomer
Role: ITEN Volunteer Mentor
Name: Amanda Patterson
Generation: Generation Y
Role: ITEN Mentee
Business: Health Call List
Name: Elizabeth Russell
Generation: Generation Y
Role: ITEN Mentee
Amanda and Elizabeth, why did you seek out a mentor?
Amanda: Nothing great is created in a silo. I seek feedback and mentoring often so that I may learn quickly from their experience and spend my energy addressing new challenges.
Elizabeth: I want to surround myself with people who have defeated some of the challenges I have faced and who can help me visualize a path forward for my business.
What role do you think age plays in building a business?
Amanda: I believe age plays a role in business, as it is the amount of time a person has had the opportunity to fill with relevant, influential experiences. If one’s perspective is forged through consistently facing professional and personal challenges, then years on this earth most certainly makes a difference in ability to lead and flexibly navigate the multitude of unforeseen business situations.
Elizabeth: Age impacts perception of competence and leadership. Age can mean experience, skill, and connectedness. A diversely aged group benefits from multiple perspectives and skill sets, but may have trouble communicating or connecting socially.
Aditya: In my case, as I became older I got more aware of what part in business I am interested in playing.
Are most entrepreneurs young or is this a misconception?
Elizabeth: There is a wide distribution of entrepreneurs across age groups. There’s a nice urban myth about the 20-something white male which has become ubiquitous but data offsets this bias (except, the male part.)
Aditya: In general I would say, yes. [And that’s] because older people have jobs and a career something other than entrepreneurship, unless they were already entrepreneurs for a long time.
How does a multi-generational team lend strength to a business?
Amanda: Just as multi-cultural teams are stronger, diverse collective experience is better for resilience, sophistication of work products, and practical innovation.
Elizabeth: Age diversity can strengthen a team’s ability to solve complex problems given dedication to cultural competency.
How do you overcome age differences?
Aditya: I don’t think there’s anything to overcome. We have a common mindset, a common entrepreneurial mindset. So if we share that, there’s no real obstacle to overcome
Amanda: If there is age-related friction, I would suggest encouraging a culture of respect for individual intelligence and experience, and open communication. Opposing views and the ability to feel safe in challenging ideas are necessary for continued growth.
Why do you mentor entrepreneurs? Are they often younger, older, or the same age as you are?
Aditya: I get something out of it. It’s enjoyable to me. Mostly they are younger than I am.
Amanda: They range in age. I am genuinely excited by passion and the opportunity to solve problems. People of all ages and professional experience seek my guidance and collaboration in brainstorming solutions, forming business models, and making connections. I love the practice of drawing inspiration from seemingly unlikely sources; I find my diverse interests and varied exposure allows me to bring unique perspective. It is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.
Elizabeth: I am happy to talk to entrepreneurs who I might be able to help, which generally means they are earlier in their entrepreneurship path or need technical advice. I have talked to people that are older, younger and the same age.
Read more about ITEN’s mentorship programs here.