When I started working at Entrepreneur magazine back in the 1970s, no one really knew what an entrepreneur was -- few could even spell or say the word.
In the 1980s, around the middle of the decade, people started tossing the term around. The first time I heard it used outside the office was on an episode of "General Hospital," in which a doctor tries to hit on a nurse by bragging that his dad was "a real entrepreneur."
In the 1990s the dam broke. One New York Congressman declared it the "decade of the entrepreneur." And it was. Suddenly business school graduates wanted to start their own businesses rather than climb the corporate ladder. Women joined the entrepreneurial ranks in record numbers. Entrepreneurs were hailed as the new American heroes.
In the 2000s entrepreneurs started strong, but then struggled to keep their businesses and their spirits afloat (much like the rest of the nation). But those seeds planted the decade before still had some life in them yet.
Entrepreneurs in the 2010s are poised for a comeback. And a lot of credit for that belongs to Generation Y, or what I call "Generation Entrepreneur." The Millennials are, in my opinion, inherently entrepreneurial. They're studying it in college and graduating, business plans in hand, ready to make their mark on the world. (See Marketing to Millenials: You'd Better Learn to Keep Up.)
President Launches New Program
Given the current economic climate, however, it can be slow going for these eagers entrepreneurs-to-be. To help, last week several public-private partnership programs were announced by President Obama, including the Student Startup Plan. This program helps alleviate the burden of federal student loan obligations for grads who start a business, work for a startup, or have a public service job -- summed up by its slogan "Defer Loans, Not Entrepreneurship."
This idea was part of the proposed Youth Entrepreneurship Act, a joint vision of Scott Gerber, founder and president of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles.
At the same time, Gerber and several other people launched Gen Y Capital Partners, an early stage venture accelerator. Gerber says, "Gen Y Capital Partners plans to invest $10 million in as many as 100 Millennial-generated startups over the next three to five years." Included in those plans is a promise to pay down any remaining federal student loans owed by the chosen entrepreneurs.
Millennials Face Common Hurdles
After founding YEC about a year ago and talking to many potential business owners, Gerber recognized certain shared problems prohibited Millennials from moving forward with their business ideas. "I realized they needed tactical support and access to capital," he says. "They were so in debt that they were forced to get a traditional job -- instead of start a business -- so they could pay back their student loans. We needed to remove the barriers to entry and develop new, scalable ways of creating new entrepreneurs."
Just a few days after launching Gen Y Capital Partners, Gerber says they've already started receiving pitches from young entrepreneurs interested in joining the program. They will start considering the pitches in January, and will start naming portfolio companies in June.
Who Will Follow Gen Y?
But it's not all about making money. Just this week Gerber announced a new component to the plan. Gen Y Capital Partners will donate a percentage of the proceeds to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which teaches entrepreneurial skills to at-risk high school students.
"There won't be a youth entrepreneur culture if we don't give back," Gerber believes. NFTE was founded 23 years ago by Steve Mariotti, a former high school teacher, and is currently offering programs in 50 countries, reaching 50,000 kids a year. Mariotti describes the program as a "mini MBA, a 65-hour course that teaches the basics of small business (pricing, sales, and marketing) and helps the high-schoolers develop a vision for their business [along with their] self-esteem." (See Dude, Where's My Startup?)
Gerber has ambitious plans for Gen Y Capital Partners. One of his goals is to scale the program, and launch incubators at colleges across the country. Mariotti appreciates Gerber's efforts "to help build an international community of young people wanting to build wealth."
Mariotti considers the Gen Y Capital Partners Fund a smart tactic but the real goal is "creating the vision that starting a business when you're under 30 is cool." And, he adds, "Taking it global is the game changer. That could lead to the real revolution."