Within the UK’s high-growth ecosystem, we often focus on the success of younger entrepreneurs, leaving older entrepreneurs with little airtime. Although they may have more business experience than their younger counterparts, older age groups still undertake a huge amount of risk by pursuing entrepreneurship later in life—something we should celebrate far more. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the entrepreneurs that started up ambitious UK businesses aged 50+.
Whats the best age to start a business?
Previously, we found that the average age of founders at incorporation (across all high-growth UK companies) is 36, and that the average age of unicorn company founders at incorporation is 34.
Recent research from Penn State, however, finds that a 50-year-old entrepreneur is 1.8 times more likely to have entrepreneurial success than a founder in their 30s. It suggests that older people actively generate creative business ideas and turn them into innovative activities or artefacts.
Indeed, a number of older entrepreneurs have achieved great business success, including Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) and Harland Sanders (KFC), all of whom were aged 50+ when they founded these ventures.
But what about entrepreneurs leading early-stage startups in the UK? Using age data from Companies House and company position data from the Beauhurst platform, we’ve compiled a list of founders who were over the age of 50 when they incorporated their now high-growth companies. From over 3,500 people, we handpicked a list of 15 successful entrepreneurs, showcasing a range of regions and sectors, proving it’s never too late to start a new business.
In 2013, 60-year-old Carmen Hijosa founded Ananas Anam, having been researching an environmentally-friendly alternative to leather since the 1990s. Inspired by the use of plant fibres in traditional weaving, such as in Barong Tagalog garments, Hijosa created Piñatex. Piñatex is a textile made from pineapple leaf fibres, which has a positive social and economic impact, and maintains a low environmental footprint throughout its life cycle.
Ananas Anam was developed as Hijosa completed a PhD at the Royal College of Art, taking the company through the incubator programme at InnovationRCA. Ananas Anam has received four grants, totalling £276k, and raised £3.05m in investment, across eight funding rounds. Hijosa has also won awards for her creativity and innovation, and regularly shares her views on sustainability at panels and events, including TEDx talks.
When Beckley Psytech was started in 2018, one of its founders was 76-year-old Lady Amanda Feilding. Beckley Psytech conducts research into a psychedelic compound called 5-MeO-DMT, with the aim of developing it into a treatment for mental health issues, such as addiction and depression. Beckley Psytech has raised £75m in investment to date, across three funding rounds. The company is committed to improving the lives of patients in need.
Feilding has over 50 years of experience in the scientific exploration of psychedelics, believing that modern science can be used to understand, validate and optimise the healing potential of psychedelic medicines. As well as founding her own business, she has co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed scientific publications, many with ground-breaking results, and also founded the Beckley Foundation, a non-profit NGO.
Joanna Winslade founded Buddy (Quality of Life Limited) in 2011, when she was 57. MD Winslade could not find anything gentle enough to protect leg ulcers on an elderly relative and so began the process of developing something herself. Buddy produces a range of reusable limb covers, allowing wearers to keep wound dressings dry while swimming or bathing. These covers are latex-free and flexible, and suitable for amputees or people with wounds.
Buddy also offers a ‘prep shield’, a surgical limb drape for use in minor and major surgeries. The company has raised £319k in equity investment so far, across four funding rounds. Winslade’s next project in the works is Animal Buddy, which will provide a range of covers for dogs’ limbs.
The oldest entrepreneur on this list, Fredrik Glasser was 88 when he co-founded CCM (the Carbon Capture Machine). Well past retirement age, Glasser is an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, and believes that CCM provides a vital solution for carbon capture and storage. Still a small business, with less than five employees, CCM could have a great impact on combating climate change.
CCM was spun-out from the University of Aberdeen and develops carbon dioxide capturing technology. It aims to convert harmful fossil fuel emissions into carbon-negative and high-value byproducts, including PCC and PMC. CCM entered into the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize competition in 2015, and was selected as one of five finalists.
Genomics was founded by four academics from the University of Oxford. One of them was Professor Peter Donnelly, the company’s CEO, who was 54 when the startup was incorporated back in 2014. Donnelly realised the huge advances that were being made in the field of genetics weren’t being translated into better healthcare for people. Genomics tries to overcome this, developing analytics for genome sequence data, creating new opportunities in health, healthcare, and drug discovery.
Genomic prevention is Genomic’s vision: where doctors and healthcare systems can deliver care before people get sick. Genomics uses the mechanisms of disease to produce effective and tailored medicines and target those at risk. The precision medicine company has secured six funding rounds to date, raising £66.2m in financial capital.
Two out of five of CMR Surgical’s co-founders were over 50 when they developed the unicorn company in 2014: Mark Slack was 56, while Martin Frost was 51. Questioning why so many people weren’t receiving minimal access surgery, the founders decided robotic surgery was the solution. Now, CMR Surgical is transforming surgery with the development of Versius, a next-generation surgical robot.
Versius is used in routine clinical practice to deliver high-quality surgical care. CMR Surgical has raised £743m from nine funding rounds so far, and was featured on the 100 HealthTech Pioneers list in 2020 and the BusinessCloud MedTech 50 in 2021. The company also featured in our latest edition of The Deal, having secured the second-largest equity funding round of 2021.
When they co-founded Graphcore, Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles were aged 52 and 54, respectively. Toon and Knowles see a future where artificial intelligence (AI) technology brings everyone into a new era of democratised intelligence. Thus, they created Graphcore’s Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) which is optimised for machine learning tasks.
A spinout from the University of Bristol, Graphcore offers multiple IPU products which allow AI researchers to undertake new types of work which are not possible using current technologies. Since its incorporation in 2016, Graphcore has raised £528m in investment, across seven funding rounds. It has also reached unicorn status, and been featured on Lazard’s T100 (a European Venture Growth Index) in 2021 and the South West Tech 50 in 2020.
At the aged of 59, Alexandra Dunhill launched her female-focused wellness brand, Lady A. It develops CBD-based products, designed by women, for women. Upon encountering CBD, or cannabidiol, Dunhill discovered two main limitations of available products: few were made by women and suitable for female-specific needs, and many did not explain the importance of CBD.
Dunhill aimed to create a business which solved these limitations, designing products which optimise the health benefits of CBD for women. These now include supplements, vaping pens, and balms. Lady A’s mission is to unleash the benefits of plants and clean products, making products which champion the healing benefits of CBD, improve wellbeing, and ease stress. To date, Lady A has raised £167k in equity investment, from one funding round.
Starling Bank was founded by Anne Boden, at 55 years of age, alongside Mark Winlow, at 51. Recognising how technology could transform the way people manage their money in a way that traditional banks hadn’t, Boden and Winlow created what is now one of the UK’s leading challenger banks. The largest company on this list, with over 1k employees, the unicorn fintech company provides a mobile-based current account.
Starling Bank has raised £585m worth of investment so far, from eight funding rounds, as well as receiving a grant for £100m. It was also featured on the FinTech50 in 2018 and 2019, and attended both the Mayor’s International Business Programme and Tech Nation’s Future Fifty accelerator.
Sabarna Mukhopadhyay and Sushrut Mehta are the co-founders and directors of SymlConnect. They were 56 and 52, respectively, when the company was incorporated in 2012. SymlConnect develops software which provides an informatic service in the healthcare industry, through a smart tablet, to help medical professionals access medical records more efficiently.
Mukhopadhyay and Mehta created the innovative healthtech company to bridge the patient-clinician communication gap. SymlConnect partners with skilled specialists and academics in Wales. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was able to deliver time-critical, remote operational solutions. To date, SymlConnect has secured four funding rounds, raising £713k in total, and is now an accredited EMIS Health partner.
Last but not least, Dianne Teo was 54 when she founded T30 Fitness back in 2013. The successful business owner had years of experience in the fitness industry, managing fitness programmes and as a lecturer in Sport and Fitness, both of which contributed to the development of the company. T30 Fitness has created two main concepts: GameFit and Fatburn Extreme. These are instructor-led fitness training and weight-loss exercising programmes.
The workouts that T30 Fitness has developed are licensed out to fitness instructors all over the world, from the UK to Australia. Instructors are supported after the courses, leading to several of them building their own fitness businesses. T30 Fitness has taken part in two accelerator programmes so far: Entrepreneurial Spark and the Entrepreneur Accelerator in 2019.
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