The New Faces of Entrepreneurship: Part II – Changing Careers

In the previous insight, we looked at founders coming from industry. But it’s not always relevant experience that leads to ideas and startup success — sometimes it’s a midlife career change into an entirely new space that provides the push and motivation. A study by Vivek Wadhwa and his research team found that the average founder of a successful startup launched the company at age 40 — certainly not the typical image we all picture. Here are three examples of entrepreneurs that made a career-changing leap into their new companies:

 

Example: Velo Labs

Velo Labs is the maker of Skylock, the world’s first solar-powered bike lock with keyless entry, theft protection and crash detection. But the two co-founders weren’t from the biking industry. Co-founder Jack Al-Kahwati spent ten years leading engineering teams at Boeing, Sikorsky and BAE Combat Systems, while co-founder Gerardo Barroeta spent nearly a decade at Jawbone, an audio company. Nevertheless, their experiences led them to cross industries and launch their company.

 

Example: Spiral Fuel

Spiral Fuel launched with a product that converts methane gas, a waste product from sewage treatment plants and large farms, into high-octane gasoline and pure water. But founder Andy Corradini started the company while a stay-at-home father, after a twenty-year career as chief marketing officer and head of sales and marketing, armed with a Wharton MBA.

 

Example: Volo Broadband

Volo Broadband is a for-profit company that brings broadband services to emerging markets — but it was founded by four colleagues at a non-profit, Inveneo, that brought sustainable computing to more than three million people in 31 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. While the product has clearly been influenced by their experience at Inveneo, the switch from non-profit to for-profit is significant. The founders realized that building a successful nonprofit constantly asking for funds. As a for-profit, they have been able to create a more stable business — to hopefully fulfill their goal of using technology to bring about quick societal change.

 

These three companies are not alone — many founders have switched careers and changed industries in their path toward startup success.