Midlife Enterpriser: Reengineering mindsets of mid-aged professionals

  • Unlocking inner ambition & converting middle agers into business ventures
  • Next cohort projected Jan 2021 with improved platform and more mentors

Different from an accelerator, Basecamp involves unlocking what is within the participant rather than jumping into an idea.

“If we can find the gene for entrepreneurship, we don’t need any courses. [on entrepreneurship] We’d simply take a blood test and get on with it,” quips Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam (pic, right), a supposedly retired UK academic specialising in entrepreneurship. However,Midlife Enterpriser: Reengineering mindsets of mid-aged professionals seeing that researchers have yet to conclusively identify the ideal blend of entrepreneurial traits, Shailendra has his work cut out for him.

But, with over 2 decades of research, study, teaching and applying entrepreneurship traits and tactics, he believes he has narrowed the search for the key trait. “Reengineering the mindset is certainly the key,” he believes.

Shai, who is still active teaching today despite his retired status, believes he has found the right key, to unlock this mindset shift.

Partnering with Malaysian entrepreneur, Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, Shai says he has no hesitation in joining Dash’s recently launched Midlife Enterpriser, an entrepreneurship school aimed at those above 40 years of age, with the pioneer batch graduating earlier this month.

As most accelerator programmes cater to young startups with shiny new ideas, mid-aged working professionals find little support when looking to start a business. Herein lies the gap that Dash and Shai aim to address through Midlife Enterpriser.

Midlife Enterpriser: Reengineering mindsets of mid-aged professionals“The purpose of Midlife Enterpriser is to take the passion, experience, vast network and wisdom that exists within mid-lifers between the age of 45 to 65 and to help them turn their ideas into meaningful and sustainable ventures that creates impact and solves real problems,” said Dash (pic) who is no stranger to entrepreneurship himself.

A respected name in the Malaysian startup scene, Dash was a former president of the Technopreneur’s Association of Malaysia (TeAM) and founder of StartupMalaysia.org.

The idea came to him eight months ago in May. Without much ado, he shared it with Shailendra who was one of his teachers in 2010 when Dash enrolled in a Post Grad Diploma in Entrepreneurship at Cambridge. “I really wanted to understand all the facets, nuances, levers of entrepreneurship,” he explains, on his decision to go back to school.

Over the years the professional relationship between the duo developed into a good friendship, “I failed to fail him,” jokes Shai, with Dash counting him as a mentor as well.

He couldn’t have chosen better. For the past 30 years, Shai has lived and breathed entrepreneurship, pioneering education “for” entrepreneurship away from “about” entrepreneurship at numerous institutions of higher learning, including 12 years as the founding director of the Centre of Entrepreneurship Learning at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge.

[Para edited to reflect the correct time period Dr Shailendra has been involved in entrepreneurship research and teaching.]

In his role, seeing between 120 to 150 business ideas yearly, Shai is certainly not short of ideas in which to engage and join in. “If I jump on every one, I would be in trouble. But this one idea spoke to me because it has to do with education and mentoring. It is a shared value that Dash and I have about empowering and enabling individuals,” he explains.


What is The Midlife Enterpriser

After amassing over two decades of work experience in large organisations, some mid-aged professionals begin asking what is next and start to think about launching their own business. The struggle, however, is getting a start and figuring out what they want to do. That is where the duo hope to make a difference.

Shai delves into the two broad categories of people that could benefit from Basecamp, the first programme they are running. “The first are those successful in their organisations and wondering where to go next. They have run out of steam, and are looking for new ways of thinking to become more enterprising within their institutions.”

Meanwhile, the second group of people are those that have spent long careers helping organisations thrive and are now looking for the next “internal adventure” in the form of a business.

Shai is quoted on the Midlife Enterpriser website: “By remaining inside an organisation, a typical Midlife Enterpriser brings deep understanding of how things work, the know how to de-risk new projects and add value. Should they feel that for personal reasons they need to start a new journey, then a typical Midlife Enterpriser brings skills, knowledge and maturity that can be applied to what they may do for the next 20 or so years. It is a fabulous time in life to explore options.”

Different from an accelerator, Basecamp involves unlocking what is within the participant rather than jumping into an idea. “We have turned the question around. Instead of asking what kind of company you should be building, the question we ask is: Given who you are and what you know, what opportunity should you be going after?” explains Dash.

The key is action-based learning. “Some of them are a little bit shy to disclose the idea that’s deep inside. So they may make up an idea as a vehicle because we like to learn by doing. And we don’t question that because there is something else probably lurking behind it.”

But can someone’s true business ambition be unlocked in just five weeks through virtual classes? Shai responds: “It is about starting the journey. We don’t complete the journey in this period. It is a trust building process as much as anything else. They are getting the tools (including Design Thinking principles) and insights that they need and beginning their own personal journey. People start at very different points. Some have been thinking about this for a while and we are just tipping them over.”

“And, some don’t make the journey,” he says candidly. “Because they have much deeper issues going on. Neither of us are trained psychologists, nor are we spiritual leaders so this is not our territory.”


Basecamp programme structure and what is next

Over the course of five weeks, participants will have 25 contact hours with the mentors with two sessions totalling four to five hours weekly. Currently, Basecamp is offered virtually with no plans of moving to a physical or hybrid model at least for the next one year.

As for entry criteria into the programme, it comes down to age of the participant, their openness to learning and possibly other qualitative factors. “They are self-selecting onto the programme. They are paying money to come onboard and so they have already made up their mind that this is something they want to do. We’re sort of nudging them along a little bit,” shares Shai.

The programme can be broken down into three portions - insight, innovation, and implementation. “Nine sessions are content driven and the last session is for their presentations about where they have reached and how ready they are for the next part of the journey. Not quite a pitch but more of a reflective piece. Some of them may have developed an idea by this point.”

The first trial cohort of the programme concluded in August with eight participants that came from Dash’s network of connections. “Our participants tell us that the deep conversations we have with them have been insightful. They, too, bring a lot of knowledge and insight,” said Dash, adding that five participants are C-level executives and three are entrepreneurs.

For these participants, it is all about the confidence and shift in mindset. “Basically, it’s about moving away from following a checklist within an organisation towards an innovation mind shift which calls for a lot of trial and error and tentative thinking,” he explains.

The projected start date for the next cohort will be in January 2021. Since the conclusion of the last cohort, Dash has been obsessed on making Midlife Enterpriser at par with world standards. Taking lessons from the trial cohort, he is dedicating his time and resources to building the web platform and on-board more mentors. “We are limiting it to ASEAN for the time-being. Just one more cohort in this time zone before we open it up,” says Dash.

As for what comes after Basecamp, the details are yet to be decided but Dash and Shai hope to offer a next-stage programme to provide support for ventures launched from the programme. “For the long-term, we are also thinking of offering mentorship after the programme to see their journeys going forward,” says Dash.


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