Millennial Entrepreneurship: The Dream vs. The Reality

I’m what you might call a wannabe serial entrepreneur. Rarely does a week go by without some version of a million dollar idea exciting me with possibilities of solving the world’s problems while simultaneously becoming rich myself. Clearly dreaming big isn’t my problem.

But there’s a big difference between the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial reality. I can come up with million dollar dreams till the cows come home, but executing my entrepreneurial musings successfully has proven far more challenging. This dichotomy between entrepreneurial mindset and reality is one that seems to be manifesting itself now more than ever in Millennials.

Millennial Entrepreneurship

The Desire for Millennial Entrepreneurship

According to a 2013 study from Rasmussen College, of Millennials working a typical 9-to-5 job, 71 percent have the desire to quit and go work for themselves. A 2014 study from Bentley University revealed similar stats with 67 percent of Millennials wanting to opt out of the traditional “corporate climb” and start their own businesses. In fact, only 13 percent of respondents said their career goals involved climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president.

Why Millennials Prefer to Be CEOs of Themselves

Having worked as a personal assistant, tradeshow hostess, and babysitter I’ve experienced the luxury of the corporate career path from the sidelines. Perks like free health insurance and business class travel aren’t exactly part of my self-employed reality. Despite my occasional envy however, I, like my Millennial counterparts, am happy to give up the stability of corporate benefits for the opportunity to create success on my own terms.

Having seen both of my parents laid off after 20 plus years in their respective corporate positions, left with limited career prospects- overqualified, unemployed fifty-somethings – the idea of self-employment became attractive early on. Couple that exposure with a borderline unhealthy obsession of documentary watching (so much corporate greed), and the old-school traditional career path becomes even less desirable.

Finally, like most Millennials, I subscribe to the “radical idea” of a career providing fulfillment, and a work environment that provides flexibility and happiness. Rather than compromising those core ideals while I toil away at unpaid internships or sit in a cubicle for the sake of insurance, I work to create my own career reality that encompasses all of my ideals. If the sacrifice is a little less pay and a little more risk- so be it- as long as it’s on my terms.

Millennial Entrepreneurship Reality

Despite strong entrepreneurial ideals and seemingly endless optimism from myself and my generational counterparts, the number of young entrepreneurs is actually declining. According to the Kauffman Foundation, start-up rates among Americans ages 20 to 34 peaked at 35 percent in 1996 and have since dropped to 23 percent in 2013. That’s about 40,000 fewer new businesses per month being launched by young adults in 2013 as compared to 1996.

Why this disconnect between the spirit of Millennial entrepreneurship and the reality of declining young entrepreneurial endeavors? Some experts cite student loans as a possible cause. Saddled with record student debt loads, Millennials may feel that they simply can’t afford to pursue entrepreneurship. 

Those young, indebted years however, can be the best time to take risks and turn dreams of self-employment and business ownership into actuality. Without major financial obligations like a mortgage or a family to support, young adults have less to lose from a failed business attempt than they likely ever will again.

Even so, nobody wants to lose- so how can Millennials succeed?

Millennial Entrepreneurship Success

The good news is Millennials already have many of the traits indispensable to entrepreneurial success – passion and enthusiasm chief among them. What they don’t always have though is the courage to take that next step of turning their passion-fueled ideas into working realities.

An aversion to risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it cripples the growth of new business and prevents a generation of innovative thinkers from materializing their ideas, then we have a problem. So what can Millennials do to mitigate some of those risks while still taking a chance on their own million dollar ideas?

Side hustle! Millennials can lay down the foundation for their future entrepreneurial enterprises while still working their traditional nine to fives – earning the income necessary need to meet their financial obligations while saving up for an eventual departure from the workplace.

Technology has also helped to remove many of the barriers to entry that once accompanied the launch of self-driven enterprises. The flexibility to start a business from home, the opportunity to raise capital through simple web-based platforms, the resources to reach and connect with potential users and business partners around the world- it’s a wonderful time to be an entrepreneur.

To find their own entrepreneurial success, Millennials need to pour their passion for million dollar dreaming into maximizing the resources available to execute those dreams.

My Own Millennial Entrepreneurship Saga 

After several years of failed self-starting, I finally took one of my million dollar ideas and turned it into a hundred dollar reality. It soon became a thousand dollar reality and now it’s on the way to a reality in the tens of thousands. Still shooting for the million… it’s a work in progress.

With a strong focus and commitment to following through, I was able bridge my own disconnect between entrepreneurial dream and reality. My hope is that my Millennial peers will find that winning combination of side hustle, resources, resilience, and unwavering passion to do the same with one of their own.

This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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