Older crowd going it alone

IN A RIPOSTE to the current thinking that seems to suggest life stops not much after 30, National Westminster Bank has discovered that entrepreneurs are getting markedly older.

In the past five years, the average age of the owners of new businesses has risen to 37, from 32, and the biggest growth has come in the 44-to- 54-year-old bracket, which has seen its share of start-ups rise from 11 per cent in 1990 to 20 per cent this year.

Moreover, research shows that the older the owner the better prepared and capitalised he or she will be, and the more likely to succeed. Those starting up in their late forties are more than twice as likely to survive as those in their early twenties.

Redundancy was a trigger for starting a business, especially in the over- 45 bracket, where nearly one in four cited loss of a job as the main reason for going it alone.

The proportion of start-ups arising from redundancy has risen from 7 per cent in 1990 to 14 per cent this year. However, the survey carried out for NatWest by NOP Corporate and Financial earlier this month found that the chief motivators remain a desire to run their own businesses and to make money.

The study, which monitored business start-ups since June 1985, also showed that 95,000 new businesses started trading in the first quarter of this year - a 12 per cent increase on the same period of last year.

Ian Peters, head of NatWest's small business services, said: "With 400,000 projected to start trading in 1995 - 8 per cent more than in 1994 - the figures for the first quarter are an optimistic sign reflecting the gradual return of confidence to this sector.

"Most new business owners remain cautious, however, as shown by more realistic expectations for first-year sales."

Ncw businesses are taking on fewer people, with one in three, compared with more than half in 1987, taking on at least one full-timer. The average number of employees per business has dropped from 2.6 to less than one in the last eight years.

Despite subdued consumer demand, retail remains the most popular sector, accounting for a fifth of start-ups - although larger manufacturers and exporters are leading the recovery.

The East of England leads with 20 per cent of start-ups, while London and the South-east fell from 29 per cent at the end of 1994 to 19 per cent in the first quarter of this year.