Opinion | Developing diversity in innovation

WIDER ISSUE: Discrimination in the tech industry in not just gender-related.
WIDER ISSUE: Discrimination in the tech industry in not just gender-related.

What makes a high-growth start-up successful? If you believe many in the tech industry, it depends on you being a computer software science geek, certainly male, and most importantly – young.  The present debate is generally focused on sexism and gender. Even though I believe women face the worst discrimination in tech industry, they are unquestionably not the only group who face this issue.

Recently, a group of economics researchers conducted a wide-ranging study of the starting age of founders of high-growth startups and discovered that successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young. The average age of a startup founder with one employee is about 41.9, and among the top 0.1 per cent of highest-growth startups. That average age is about 45. This study rejects the common stereotyping of youth as a key trait of successful entrepreneurs, arguing that older founders are more successful because they tend to have more experience.

One glaring example of discrimination can be found in for-profit tech accelerators. Startup founders are attracted to good accelerators to access seasoned entrepreneurs or former entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that, got the t-shirt”. However, for-profit accelerators require startup founders to attend three to six-month intensive, in-person residency programs, usually in a cool co-working space in a state capital city. In exchange for a little cash and 10-20 per cent of equity.

This model of accelerator only fits a hedonistic lifestyle of the stereotypical young entrepreneur, but it doesn’t fit if you are a 40-something single mother or father raising a young family, living within the demands of a modern society.

Diversity ought to matter to the tech industry sector because it makes good business sense, not because it is politically correct.

Gordon Whitehead is senior business advisor and project manager at The Business Centre