There is a persistent belief that millennials are entrepreneurs. Maybe that’s because millennials are open about their desire to job hop. Maybe it’s because Gen Y workers have grown up expecting customization and specialization. Maybe it’s because of the prominence of Mark Zuckerberg.
But here is a fact: While millennials might be “entrepreneurial” in nature, they’re not necessarily starting businesses.
What the Numbers Say
Recent statistics back up the concept that millennials are not (or, perhaps, not yet) an entrepreneur-heavy generation.
• According to a report by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, less than 2 percent of millennials reported being self-employed, compared with 7.6 percent for Generation X and 8.3 percent for Baby Boomers.
• According to the Kauffman Foundation, entrepreneurs in the 20 to 34 age range have been on the decline for some time. Young entrepreneurship is down almost 10 percent — from 34.3 percent of all new entrepreneurs in the 1997 Index to 24.7 percent in the 2015 Index.
The Zuck Effect?
Part of the entrepreneurial reticence could be due to millennials’ entrepreneur role models. Consider Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Uber’s Travis Kalanick [CORRECTION 7/28/16 – Travis Kalanick was born in 1976 and is therefore not a Millennial], who have achieved overwhelming success at a very young age. Of course there have been iconic entrepreneurs of other generations — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Sara Blakely, Russell Simmons, Martha Stewart — but did any become quite so rich, so famous, so young? Is it different to become an entrepreneurial superstar in the age of social media stardom?
As a result of their exposure to Zuckerberg, Kalanick and others, young people today might assume that success in entrepreneurship is about hitting a homerun with a great idea and millions in VC money right off the bat, rather than working hard for decades and watching something grow.
Certainly the issue of crushing student debt can’t be overlooked as a cause of millennials’ lower entrepreneurship rates; young professionals who are paying down student loan bills have less to allocate to new business ventures. After all, not every entrepreneurial person wants to be a billionaire. Lack of funds could be what’s holding back millennials from starting any type of business, whether it’s a graphic design firm, a jewelry design business or a flower shop.
How to Harness Millennials’ Entrepreneurial Spirit
The fact that millennials aren’t heading for the doors to start their own companies is actually positive news for most employers. Employers have the opportunity to provide an entrepreneurial experience for millennials within their current roles. Intrapreneurship — behaving like an entrepreneur and using entrepreneurial skills while operating inside a company — has been a valuable strategy for years now.
If you are an employer, here are three ways you and your employees can mutually benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset:
• Offer new experiences. By exposing young professionals to new projects and opportunities for creativity and innovation, you can cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset within your own company.
• Involve young professionals in high-level decisions. Especially if your business has millennial customers or clients, you can leverage your young employees as internal experts. You’ll make better decisions and they’ll feel included as a valuable part of the organization.
• Give them a destination and let them create the roadmap. In other words, let employees know the deadline or end result you’re looking for and allow them to determine the best way to carve up the work or project.