Every generation likes to thinks it’s special, just a little bit “different” than the generations that came before. I know my generation, the baby boomers, sure did. Caught up in the unbridled optimism of youth, we thought we were so different that we were going to change the world.
I thought about this a few weeks ago while attending the Future of Entrepreneurship Education (FEE) Summit in Orlando, Fla. I met many driven young entrepreneurs under 30 who are determined to fix the mess the previous generations have made of the world (which kind of reminds me of what my generation used to think).
Don’t get me wrong. I hope they can do what we boomers couldn’t. And one thing this new generation, known either as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y, has going for it is the prevalence of entrepreneurs in the world today. In my day, most people aspired to get a good job and start climbing the corporate ladder. (Heck, most women aspired to get any job at all.) Today, it’s obviously a different story. Entrepreneurship is taught at hundreds of colleges, and programs like the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) provide entrepreneurial education to at-risk teens.
For some, entrepreneurship and the self-empowerment it fosters can often be an escape route from a troubled or disenfranchised background. As Jerry Ross, the executive director of the Disney Entrepreneur Center in Orlando told me, “The way out of poverty is ownership. Let’s teach people to own stuff.”
But the young people I talked with came to entrepreneurship with various motives. Most intended to change the world; others just wanted to change their own lives. For some entrepreneurs it’s about the pursuit of success and money; still others were just looking to do something meaningful.
Some want it all. Scott Gerber, CEO of Gerber Entertainment, author of Never Get a “Real” Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business, and Not Go Broke, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, and already a serial entrepreneur at the age of 27, believes that “Young people need to be better served, and the people who serve them need to better understand how to serve them.” Next week Gerber will be in Washington, D.C., speaking with the Small Business Administration about how it must do more to help young entrepreneurs. Because the business he started in college soared before it eventually crashed and burned (prompting his mother to advise him, “Get a real job”) Gerber believes in the power of failure. “Be afraid if you’ve never failed,” he warns. “Be afraid to wake up in the same place.”
Perhaps one reason young entrepreneurs are so certain they can create an impact is the fact that if they fail now, there’s still a lot of time to regroup and start over. Ankur Jain, who just turned 21 and started his first business at 11, also experienced failure early on. By the time he was 14, Jain’s online quiz site had 2.5 million users. But then his servers crashed and he had no database backup. Instead of wallowing in negativity, Jain says he told himself, “That’s it, move on.”