Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship


Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship


Article excerpt


Paradigm-shifting entrepreneurs in technology-based industries are often in their 20s. Examples are found in many segments including the personal computer industry (e.g., Jobs, Gates, Allen), biotech (Swanson), browsers (Andreessen), search engines (Page and Brin), and social networking (Zuckerberg). A popular Silicon Valley blog even claimed that the peak age for the "hottest technology entrepreneurs" was 26 and stated that some venture capitalists were not funding anyone over 30 years old who was launching a new technology company (Youngentrepreneur, 2007). We dub this the 'whippersnapper theory' of entrepreneurship. Gladwell (2008) in his best-seller, Outliers: The story of success, embellished the age conjecture by claiming that both chronological age and actual birthdate are important facets of game- changing entrepreneurs. He illustrated his supposition with prominent, pioneering entrepreneurs in the microcomputer/personal computer11 industry: Allen, Bechtolscheim, Gates, Jobs,111 Joy, Khosla, and McNealy, who were all bom between 1953 and 1955. Gladwell's explanation is that when the microprocessor was introduced in the early-1970's, computer engineers a few years out of college were working on mini- and main-frame computers; so anyone bom before 1953 was locked into the old paradigm.

Implicit in Gladwell's supposition are several issues that are important in entrepreneurship theory: How important is an entrepreneur's age? What is the relationship between entrepreneurial activity and age? Does entrepreneurial activity reach a peak and then decline as entrepreneurs grow older? What is the role of higher education in entrepreneurship? How much work experience is optimum before launching a highly innovative business? Should an entrepreneur's education and experience be in a technology domain or should it be general? The same questions about entrepreneurship need to be asked about creativity because new ventures that shift paradigms are started by extraordinarily creative entrepreneurs.

In this paper we first explore the literature for empirical evidence and theoretical constmcts to help answer those questions. We formulate a general proposition and deduce hypotheses and test them empirically on innovative entrepreneurs in the microcomputer/personal computer industry.

This research is important for several reasons. It examines empirically the widely held belief that extraordinary entrepreneurship in technology is enacted for the most part by young people under 30 years old with limited domain-specific experience. In so doing it tests Gladwell's ?lucky birthday' conjecture before it becomes ensconced in entrepreneurial mythology. Our findings have implications for educators, policy makers, would-be entrepreneurs, and investors. For instance, can would-be entrepreneurs have too much formal education? Richard Branson the renowned British entrepreneur who never went to university used to be fond of saying that no one became a self-made billionaire by going to Oxford University.1V On the other hand, two entrepreneurs, Gates and Zuckerberg, who are much wealthier than Branson went to Harvard... even if they didn't graduate.


Baumol, Schilling, and Wolff (2009) studied 513 super-star inventors and entrepreneurs beginning with Johan Gutenberg, born around 1400. Their superstar innovators made "breakthrough" discoveries or started organizations to exploit breakthrough discoveries or both. They categorized them as inventors, entrepreneurs, and innovative entrepreneurs. And they defined breakthrough innovation as the initial idea and its first successful model, which they illustrated with the Wright brothers' airplane and the ENIAC computer. They classified subsequent improvements-for instance, the progressive steps from the ENIAC to the latest laptops-as incremental innovations. We take a broader view of innovation and classify innovations as ?paradigm-shifting' if they made noticeable contributions to moving a paradigm forward. …

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