Starting your own business isn’t easy for anyone, and it comes with extra challenges for women. It’s even more difficult when you don’t fit society’s definition of “young.” But that doesn’t mean being an entrepreneur is off the table for aging women. Knowing what challenges may be in store makes it easier to plan ahead for success.
Women over 50, for example, decide to become entrepreneurs for many reasons, according to a study on female entrepreneurship. In some cases, they’re tired of being limited by their current employer. For others, they want a business that aligns with their personal values, they feel overqualified for their current role, or they see an opportunity to improve their financial situation. Regardless, the number of women who want to launch their own business later in life is on the rise and they’re facing common problems such as stereotypes, finding investors, resistance to their leadership and experience, and finding mentors and networking opportunities.
1. Age and Gender Stereotypes
In the entrepreneurial world, younger men are often seen as innovators and driven, whereas same-age women are categorized as inexperienced. As we age, men are perceived as having an experience, while women are seen as too old. It’s a stereotype where men are given the opportunity to succeed, and women are expected to fail. Women are also stereotyped as caregivers, raising questions about their ability to balance launching and running a successful business with managing family home life.
Stereotypes aside, there’s a place for women entrepreneurs, regardless of age. In fact, it’s an excellent time for women to become entrepreneurs. The number of women-owned businesses increased by 21% from 2014 to 2019, according to data from the American Express 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report. The 2022 National Women’s Business Council Annual Report notes that women owned 20.9% of employer businesses in the US and 41% of non-employer businesses. The number of women entrepreneurs, regardless of age, is rising.
2. Finding Investors
The same stereotypes aging women face as entrepreneurs are obstacles to finding investors and raising capital, too. VC firms, for example, tend to invest in companies where they can relate to the founders most easily. In other words, they’re interested in companies run by people who are just like them. Considering the venture capital market has more than its fair share of 35 and younger white males, that puts most people who don’t fit their demographic at a disadvantage. There’s some irony in that considering the 45 to 54 age group makes up just over 26% of new entrepreneurs, and over 25% are aged 55 to 64, according to data from the Kauffman Foundation.
High-growth businesses are also seeing an increase in women owners. Unfortunately, that isn’t translating into a corresponding increase in investments. Only 2.4% of venture capital went to women-owned startups in the first half of 2022. That number climbed to 17.2% for founder teams with a mix of women and men.
Since investors tend to favor their own, so to speak, seeking out firms specializing in women-run businesses increases the likelihood of receiving funding. Portfolia, for example, is a women-founded investment firm specializing in supporting women, LGBTQ+, and other minority-owned businesses. Golden Seeds is another example, focusing on investing in women entrepreneurs. Currently, there are more than 60 venture capital firms funding women-owned businesses in the US, and even big-name companies like Pepsi and Toyota are offering to fund, too.
A lot of potential investors assume aging women are closer to leaving the business world than their male counterparts. That means they’re likely to face more intense scrutiny when looking for funding. A strong business plan is important for overcoming those concerns, along with plenty of research: Firms with less faith in women entrepreneurs will have more questions, and you need to be prepared for them. They also, however, have years of experience and a lot of contacts — both of which they can leverage more easily to get funding.
3. Acceptance as a Leader and Imposter Syndrome
Women in their 40s and 50s are often written off as entrepreneurs and leaders by their male counterparts, regardless of their skills and experience. Even worse, they can be dismissed as unsuitable business owners by younger men who don’t want to work with, or invest in, someone who “reminds them of their mom.” That can be a big self-confidence blow, and feed into imposter syndrome.
Feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome are surprisingly common in women’s businesses and have a negative impact on their leadership abilities. 75% of women in business report experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in their career, according to KPMG’s Advancing the Future of Women in Business: The 2020 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report.
The majority of the women in the report who experienced imposter syndrome said turning to mentors and trusted advisors was helpful. Those may come in the form of colleagues and friends, along with resources from mentoring and networking programs.
4. Limited Networking and Mentor Options
Just because you have years of experience in the business world doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the skills — or connections — you want to start your own company. That’s where mentors and networking come in, and it’s a place where women often see a lack of options. But that doesn’t mean resources aren’t available.
Bizwomen from The Business Journals hosts mentoring and networking events for women in cities across the US, for example. eWomenNetwork offers networking and learning events, as well as conferences. Ellevate Network also supports women in business with their networking and other events, plus their annual Mobilize Women Summit conference. The WinConference focuses on women leaders and entrepreneurs with a different theme each year. And Hera Hub offers women-focused mentoring, education, networking, and workspaces in several US cities.
Finding women-focused networking and mentoring options can make a big difference in your personal and entrepreneurial success. The knowledge and empathy from people who have shared similar experiences is an invaluable resources, and offer personal validation, too.
Despite the potential hurdles, the number of women taking up the entrepreneurial mantle and starting their own businesses later in life is on the rise. Their successes are showing that ambition isn’t limited to just 20- and 30-somethings, and women can launch winning ventures in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.