Would I recommend an entrepreneurial life to anyone? Absolutely if you have a desire to change the world we live in for the better and want to join the millions of highly skilled entrepreneurs already navigating the journey.
Challenges and rewards of being an older entrepreneur
With a health warning in place, being an older entrepreneur is not easy and it can be a lonely, isolated existence, especially if you are a woman. It can be frustrating if you took a sabbatical to rear your children, or changed career direction and have lost years of networking and experience which can eat away at your confidence.
Many people over the years have complimented me on my children, but creating wonderful humans is not something you put on your CV or in a business plan. Yet many would argue the ability to multitask as a parent and small business owner is a highly underrated superpower that’s essential if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.
“People search for meaning in order to work – not the other way around.”Christopher Hsee, University of Chicago Business School
But what makes someone satisfied if they have an innate desire to change the world? I had many doubts at the beginning of becoming an entrepreneur. I had been working crazy hours to help people less fortunate than myself, children to look after, volunteering at weekends and keeping it all together for others hiding my inner pain with a smile. The exhaustion was inevitable and it made me look at my life and dramatically change direction. I asked myself, what do you really want to achieve in life?
Four years on, I am still evolving but crucially I found a way to express the drive I have inside. There’s excitement, a deep desire to improve things and only my own inertia holding me back. I consider myself very fortunate to have the solid support of people close to me. Without this you cannot take a step forward as you rely on their financial and emotional support as well as their critical thinking to help you overcome any doubts, criticism, risk and failure along your entrepreneurial journey.
Serial entrepreneur… someone said to me ‘oh that’s the worst kind.’ Well is it? I think it just means you yearn for something you don’t have in your reach, maybe you are still not sure what it is but you know there is something you can contribute. For me it’s recognition, teaching something of value and passing on my skills and knowledge. Validation from the people closest to me is a key driver but sometimes it’s fellow entrepreneurs that really understand the effort.
Most of the time I sit on the ice at the base of the iceberg, often getting my feet wet but never reaching a point of giving up. It’s about evolving into that thing you crave, finding satisfaction in the small successes that may have taken an eon to achieve but you still manage to make it look effortless. Real entrepreneurs (and there are others who believe they are but are not) keep the faith, reach out when they have to, take difficult decisions to stop and change direction when they reassess and evaluate the road map. They also gravitate towards people who have the same mentality. This keeps you balanced with the momentum to continue.
So what drives an entrepreneur? What makes you different from other people? For younger people I guess you could say the driver is independence, ego, fame and fortune. But what if you are not motivated that way? What drives you if not the atypical American Dream?
Maybe that’s the reason I choose Agtech
You know that film Antz where Zee hussles against the colony, well that’s how I see my entrepreneurship. It’s partly driven by a fear that we are heading towards disaster, further global pandemics, climate change, conflict and food shortages and nobody else knows or cares. There’s a terrible defeatist apathy to most of these issues in society, but a few entrepreneurs are thinking ahead with positive mindsets and theories on how to fix these impending problems.
I’m crazy enough to think I can change the world even though I’m just one entrepreneurial Zee in 7.9 billion. Why do I feel so different from the masses? Well it comes back to the need for validation and worth. Ultimately on a personal level it’s family that drives me to guarantee a good future for my children. There’s no point in creating good humans to live on a dead planet.
Farming: It’s not a coincidence.
The potential to change the world begins with the fundamentals of survival. Food is top of that list.The vehicle is hydroponics. Everything else falls into place if you secure production of the food chain; environment, health and quality of life.
Aging makes you reflect on geneology
I remember the smell of cut peats and the hard work of my seanathair digging rows of potatoes and turnips when I was growing up on the Isle of Skye. Growing your own produce was a skill everyone had passed down through generations. Supply chains were local and everyone knew where their food came from. The home farm supplied milk, beef came from local farms and living on an island, fish was plentiful. I don’t remember seeing much in the way of exotic fruit, just what we grew ourselves, strawberries, raspberries, currants and apples. Life was simple, safe and healthy.
Roger the butcher. I fetched groceries for neighbors and they greeted me as ‘Jinty Mcginty’. Everyone was just one point of contact from their food chain.
Turn to today and this is what drives me, it makes perfect sense to reinvigorate local supply chains. Problem is, we are spoilt by shipping products all across the world and fruits like kiwi, grapes, dragon fruit and bananas that we expect to have supplied to our grocery stores without fail. Empty shelves whether they are brexit, covid or trade war related are a consequence of a less secure supply chain and lost production skills.
Are Vineyards possible in Scotland in the future? Black grape vine growing under GE Arize RB.
So you see the conundrum, we need to keep food production local yet have the bounty we are so used to. Everything else falls into place, quality jobs, health and environmental regeneration. Hydroponics and Agtech offers that opportunity like no other industry. If we get the food supply chain correct, many of the issues I worry and stress over for my children’s generation will be eased.
Entrepreneurs are ‘Jack of all trades’.
As an entrepreneur in Agtech you must do it all. My list of jobs is never ending: researcher, agronomist, IPM, HVAC engineer, software engineer, chemist, nursery manager, marketer, social media guru, sales manager, business developer, planner, accountant, pitcher, employer and presenter. Yep, that’s the short version.
If you work for a large corporate farm these jobs would likely be done by skilled people in their specialised fields. But as an entrepreneur with a start up you must be able to take all these on to build your business. This is what leads to late nights, sacrificing normal social time if you are working in a full time job to support your family. If you are lucky, your family will understand your reasons as to why you spend so much time obsessing.
My favourite subject and one thing I’m really good at. I have killed one hell of a lot of plants in the quest for perfection. In the Wasabi world the more you fail, the more accomplished you are. I’m a scientist at heart so like a lab rat I have been ‘programmed’ for trial and error. Failure is a part of learning, in fact without it you could easily sail straight into the iceberg and not have developed resilience within the business to anticipate problems. Most of business is failure and problem solving. It’s not the failing that matters, but the unphased attitude to continue.
Would I recommend the life of an entrepreneur?
Well that depends on what you are willing to sacrifice. Accepting that you can be pushed to the edge is important. When you start to see success it brings more problems, recruiting staff, devolving power can be hard until trust is developed and secure. After all when you do everything yourself it can be one of the hardest things to allow someone else to take that role.
The reward is an inner peace and calm, elation, sheer joy and fulfilment. Many have said to me on my journey, ‘I hope you make it’. Most people want you to succeed because we have an inbuilt desire to see the underdog succeed. It paves the way for others.
Incentives and programs are not great for entrepreneurs in their later years, it’s almost like you had some crazy explosion in your head. Why try and break your way into a male dominated, corporate loaded, investment heavy field with your ideology? Although we are getting better at encouraging women entrepreneurs we tend to miss the point that older entrepreneurs may not need the same sort of mentoring as younger less experienced people to get a foothold in the business.
Don’t give up, just change direction
This is as much a note to myself as it is to anyone reading this. Well meaning family and friends will try to talk you out of a life as an entrepreneur when the going gets tough. The pandemic caused untold damage to my direction and plans. Rejection when you work so hard is probably the worst part of being an entrepreneur. Try to respect yourself, develop a disciplined lifestyle and not lower your standards to get through this period as success is still possible. Rewind to resilience and hitting the iceberg. Plans are always altering and perseverance pays dividends. Yes the risks are greater for older entrepreneurs but so are the rewards if you are following a heart felt mission. Sharing the rewards with those that also made their own sacrifice for your progress is something to never lose sight of.
Late nights: Saturday night in the hood
Nobody is pushing me to the edge but myself. Over the last few years, so many have wished me the best of luck. Adjusting and readjusting my thoughts to cope with other people’s expectation of my success is undeniably hard, especially if it is seemingly taking years. Their disappointment is your disappointment. I recently had a huge wobble, nearly pulling the plug or at least I thought that’s what I was doing. In reality I was subconsciously testing my belief, reacting to those internal doubts and warnings trying to protect me with ‘it’s too difficult’.
So I just give up and have an easy life?
Never, it’s not in my genes.
Here’s to success whatever that means.
Janet Colston PhD is pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.
You can follow The Functional Plant Company on Instagram.