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Why We Created a Startup with Two 22-Year-Olds

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I've been working in trendspotting, advertising and PR for about as many years as my new business associates have been walking the earth, and I couldn't be more excited about working with them.

As the CEO of Havas PR and a veteran of other big agencies, including JWT and Chiat\Day, I'm still a firm believer in the importance of the experience that comes with age. But in the always-on, ever-changing landscape of social media, experience isn't the only worthy attribute. Or even necessarily the best. How can one be acutely experienced in something that didn't exist five years or five months or five minutes ago?

That's why we conceived SocialProvidence, a social media consultancy run by two 22-year-old recent college graduates and supported by our agency. The agency's co-GMs, Giuseppe Crosti and Mike Cunningham, are setting out to help brands run by their fellow millennials--as well as brands run by much older folks--succeed in this viral world of Instagram, Vine and whatever's coming next. (In fact, their first calling card was a Vine video, rather than an old-school website.) Havas PR is providing them multiple resources--an operating counsel and advisory board among the most prominent. (We laughingly launched SocialProvidence as "kissed by Havas" with juicy red lips, like you'd see if your blustery Aunt Ruth smacked a wet one on your cheek.)

Why not just create a new department within the Havas network? Because as fluent as my colleagues, and many experienced PR people, are in social media, it's just not our first language. Much has been written about digital natives (and many jokes made about our teenage children handling our tech support), and a lot of it turns out to be true. The best way for 20-something entrepreneurs to connect with 20-something and teenage customers is to speak to them directly--guided by someone who gets it. And the best way for us to be state of the art is to employ natives as commercial artists.

No one's talking about evolution or even revolution anymore. Reinvention was so five years ago, and rebooting two. Now it's all about disruption. And who better to disrupt than outsiders? That's why a pair of recent grads are the best people to navigate this corner of the social media PR space right now.

Creating SocialProvidence as its own entity, rather than part of a top-rated global communications network, also injected it with the energy and independent nature of a startup. Havas is helping bring in new business, and serving as counsel if needed, but Giuseppe and Mike are running the show. My aim is to give these talented young entrepreneurs a field where they can run faster and freer.

I strongly believe in the power of youth and in the ability to find creative solutions to problems when people aren't hemmed in by experience and don't know there are any wrong answers. This industry (correction: every industry) needs more people who can just do things, jump in and give ideas a shot.

I found these entrepreneurs through my role as an adviser to the selection committee of Venture for America (VFA), a program that puts talented grads in the trenches of a startup or early-stage company in an unlikely but promising position for two years to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. (Full disclosure: I have just joined the board of directors for VFA and am hooked on this amazing not-for-profit organization and what it can do for America's cities and its young people, besides what it can do for our business by supplying us with these awesome co-GMs.)

Back to the story: I fell in love with the VFA recruitment process when I sat in on a session in 2012 to help screen potential fellows. I left jealous as heck and wanted some of those entrepreneurial minds to shake up my own company. What could be made with a company that was invented by VFA fellows and grounded in their worldview? I started wondering what it could look like and where it could live. I wanted what these kids have and I wanted it for us. My head spun.

Where it could live was another piece of the puzzle that really got my creative juices flowing--I've been touting the trend of placemaking for quite some time, and I'm obsessed with what makes a city a desirable destination. With VFA, you have to want to build a business or be a startup in one of its markets.

It turned out to be a fairly easy decision: Providence was a natural choice. It's one of a handful of U.S. cities that's an environment for super-smart 20-somethings to build businesses and become altruistic-minded entrepreneurs. (The accelerator Betaspring is leading this movement, having propelled dozens of startups such as ZoomTilt, Learning Hyperdrive and Recroup into scalable, thriving companies.) The Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides the best and brightest with cutting-edge research, muscular mentorships and potent relationships and resources, and groups like the Founders League and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce continue to support startups after they've launched.

There's also more than a little nostalgia here for me. My first job after I graduated from Brown University was at a startup incubated in Providence. While I've since fallen in love with complex organizations, and my business cards now say CEO, at heart I am an entrepreneur who has always loved the teamwork of the early days of "do it all and dream." Does this read like a MasterCard ad or what: Watching that happen again with SocialProvidence? #nobrainer