At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square

Meet the Generation Bringing Back Entrepreneurship in America

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Entrepreneurship has been in a slow decline over the past thirty years in America, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. Today, more businesses are failing than being created, as this graph shows.

But Millennials may be the generation to change this decline.

The National Journal reports that in 2011, 29% of all entrepreneurs were between twenty and thirty-four years old, and Millennials launched nearly 160,000 start-ups each month that year.

Is it possible that Millennials might bring back the entrepreneurial spirit?

Millennials and the Entrepreneurial Spirit

William Deresiewicz writes in the New York Times that the hero of the Millennial generation is the entrepreneur. He explains why:

The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.

He continues:

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

Every generation of youth culture has defining characteristics, and for today’s youth, one characteristic is a strong passion for creativity in the form of entrepreneurship, with the statistics to back it up.

According to data published in Relevant magazine’s June/July print issue,

  • 51% of Millennials plan to start a business within five years.
  • 42% of college freshman in 2012 said “influencing social values” was “essential” or “very important.
  • 5,000 + courses in entrepreneurism were offered in 2012, compared with only 100 offered in 1970.

Other sources report similar findings:

  • Entrepreneurism and marketing are the top majors for Millennials (Payscale’s 2013 Generation at Work Report).
  • Millennials rate working for themselves as an important career priority—higher than any other generation (Barna FRAMES).
  • Nearly one-third of Millennials say the freedom to take risks in their work as important to them (32%) compared to an average of 25% among all generations (Barna FRAMES).

Why the shift? Some attribute a change in career values. Twenty-somethings today are more interested in meeting personal goals and values in their careers over salary, benefits, and job security, and starting a business can help them do that. Technological advances and online crowdfunding resources like Kickstarter also encourage the entrepreneurial culture of young adults across the world.

A Spirit We Can All Embrace

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Millennial generation celebrates values Christianity holds dear: risk taking (leaps of faith), creativity (Imago Dei), and impacting the world for greater good (kingdom advancing).

But of course, not all Millennials can or will be self-employed, and not all of us are Millennials. However, we can all learn something from this innovative trend if we recognize that the entrepreneurial spirit can be part of any job.

We always have opportunities at work (and outside of work) to trust God in taking more calculated risks, to create something where there was once nothing, to initiate a project, to improve a process, or to solve problems.

This is the entrepreneurial spirit that God has designed us for. How can you be more entrepreneurial in your day to day life? How can you encourage others around your to be more innovative?

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Millennial generation is something we are all meant to embrace.

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  • SJHatch

    First of all, I would be wary of making sweeping generalizations about what an entire generation might or might not do, like what you have here in supposing that Millennials might be the generation to increase entrepreneurialism. In this case, the obvious counter to your assertion is that Millennials are still (after five years) the biggest supporters of the Obama Administration and that Administration, more so than any other in the last few decades, has been indifferent–and arguably hostile–toward creating the economic conditions that would foster an entrepreneurial spirit. Moreover, given the student debt load Millennials are carrying, I’m simply not convinced that they are willing to take the risks to turn this decline around. Second, the Brookings report you highlight (and thank you for highlighting this report, BTW) shows an even, long-term decline across geographic and disparate sectors of the economy. This is not going to be easily or quickly turned around, even if Millennials were as entrepreneurial as your cheerleading suggests. As Brookings says, this is a structural problem. What I find interesting in the Brookings data is that between roughly 1982 and 1988 there was a stabilization in the entrepreneurial environment, but since 1988, the decline has been consistent and pronounced. The 1981-88 period corresponds to the Reagan years, whereas since 1988 we have had the two “compassionate conservative” Bush Administrations (41 and 43) and two Progressive Administrations (Clinton and Obama). I would suggest that maybe there is a correlation here between the policies of those Administrations and the entrepreneurial environment.

  • Agree on SJHatch and our generalization, the Kaufmann Foundation studies show that almost an equal number of age demographics (20-25%) start businesses depending on the age bracket.

    You need to write more about the Roaring Twenties as the model for change under Harding/Coolidge and Andrew Mellon, having dropped the upper tax rate from 77% to 25% and cut govt spending, too, they were able to pay down our national debt from $24B to $18B.

  • Steve Lanning

    Just found this blog…love the blog! Even though I do agree with SJ and Kevin and also bemoan our country’s current leadership, I would still encourage you, Elise, to keep up with the cheerleading. For 41 years, by our Lord grace and mercy, I created my own paychecks and continue today to involve myself in entrepreneurial projects and so encourage others in their ventures.
    I do believe there has been a societal change that has taken place in our land. And that makes ‘getting together’ as believers in business so much more vital; to ‘encourage one another day after day’ to make our Lord look good in our lives.
    As a young guy barely three years away from cramming a four year program into five years at my beloved Boise State in my native Idaho, the Lord gave me an opportunity to travel, interviewing inventors and their inventions for a venture capital firm in Southern Maryland. I was asked to come into the office in DC in 1973 and wondered how folks could live in this humidity! Ha! My wife of 39 years and I still live in the state (only in western Maryland), and it seems I am experiencing a second wind in business.
    I truly enjoyed working in and around DC all these years and being a part of entrepreneurial discussions–especially young people–and I long to once again get in on the ‘wonk’ discussions (as we called them) once again. The exciting part of most of these formal and informal get-togethers for me was the fact that I knew action would be taken. It wasn’t just idle talk. We’re talking action-takers!

    I simply desire and encourage my fellow Boomers to finish well. We’ve got all eternity to rest up! …Fur Elise

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