Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
Barbara Brooks, far right, speaks Wednesday at the Denver Startup Week event “Women Starting Up Over 40.” Brooks is co-founder of the group SecondActWomen.
Brooks and Hirt, co-founders of an organization aimed at women over 40, told a standing-room-only session Wednesday at Denver Startup Week that women who’ve embarked on new careers in their 40s, 50s and 60s are among some of the most successful entrepreneurs.
“Eighteen-hundred and 21 of you a day in the United Sates are building companies,” said Brooks, referring to a 2018 study of business women commissioned by American Express.
That’s up from a daily average of 952 between 2012-17, according to the report “The State of Women-Owned Businesses.” The report said that in 2018, women owned 12.3 million businesses, or 40 percent overall.
Brooks, who gave her age as 52.9 years old, told the crowd at the “Women Starting Up After 40” event that she and Hirt are among those who decided that ageism and the desire to follow their true passions led them to pursue second careers. They co-founded SecondActWomen to provide resources, events and programs to help other women traveling the same path.
“Last year I was subjected to ageism and it wasn’t fun. I was trying to go back to corporate, and I couldn’t,” Brooks said. “In listening to your stories, we discovered there are lots of you out there.”
A response is to “dispel and rescript the narrative” that women over 40 are past their prime, Brooks said.
“Age is important for us and to show that this is what it looks like these days. We know they like to market to us about the Depends and the walk-in tubs and the pharmaceuticals,” Brooks said. “Well, I don’t need a walk-in tub.”
Audrey Walters, an actor who co-founded Talk to the Camera, which organizes movie-making classes and camps for children, said women in their 40s and older have experience that they can build on when launching new careers and businesses.
We have lived a life and we have perspective that we might not have had in our 20s,” said Walters, a member of a panel at the startup session. “That doesn’t take the validity away from someone who starts something truly amazing in their 20s. It just means that our life experiences have given us more depth, so not only can we be more successful at this age but we can also share with those who need to hear more perspective. - Audrey Walters, co-Founder, Talk to the Camera
Some of the research appears to bear out the importance of experience when it comes to success in business. A 2018 study by researchers at Northwestern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Census Bureau said experience in a specific industry “predicts much greater rates of entrepreneurial success.”
Some of the numbers:
- A 40-year-old is 2.1 times more likely to found a successful startup as a 25-year-old.
- A 50-year-old is 2.2 times more likely to found a successful startup as a 30-year-old.
- 40-year-olds make up 3% of startup founders while 25-year-olds make up 1.7%.
The speakers at the event conceded it can be scary venturing out on your own after years working for someone else or returning to the working world after staying home to take care of children. However, they said, the payoffs can be huge.
Gina Schley was in sales and then stayed home with her children while pursuing her passion for gardening. She started a community garden and helped with school farms.
“I just started doing it because I loved it, and then I became really good at it,” Schley said. “And I’m like ‘Man, I need to turn this into a profession. I need to grow professionally and sell it.'”
She and her husband bought a three-acre piece of land in Arvada to start a flower farm. Their goal is to revive the floral industry in Colorado.
A piece of advice the business women had for other entrepreneurs: you don’t have to be able to do everything before launching a startup. They said they try to figure out what they can and hire help or seek mentors when they can’t.
“Google is your friend. There is an instructional video on 100% percent of things right now. If you don’t know how to do it, somebody does,” said Mary Smith, president of GoGenics, a hemp and CBD business.