We've all heard the statistics. Almost a year after their graduation, only 56 percent of 2010 college grads held at least one job. Half of college graduates reported that their jobs did not require their college degree -- they were waitressing, bartending, filing, or selling retail. The situation is even worse for students who majored in the humanities (as I did) or area studies, such as Latin American studies. Only 44 percent of these students held jobs meant for a college graduate.
Despite these grim facts, there is an upside to the bleak job situation facing new college grads. Now is as good a time as any to notice the problems in your community and find a new way to solve them. I'm looking at you, humanities majors and creative types. Starting your own business or nonprofit could be a great way to use your creativity and interest in the world around you, by developing scalable solutions to make a difference in people's lives.
So, Class of 2012, here are five reasons why you should expand your options and become an entrepreneur.
1. There are ideas all around you.
Adnan Aziz, Tanai Kamat and Faisal Zahid started Swaggable, a social sampling service that allows members to try products for free and share the experience with friends, this year after seeing an opportunity to improve the product sampling experience and tap into the larger social commerce market. Noting that shopping is often a social activity, Adnan and Tanai wanted to create a way for people to sample products, leave reviews for their friends, and allow companies to target customers based on their preferences.
After unsuccessfully looking for ways to volunteer abroad after graduation, Kimberly Ang and Amber Rackliffe started GiveYourGap.org. According to Kim, "We struggled to find opportunities that seemed legitimate and also didn't cost thousands of dollars a week to participate." They decided to find affordable opportunities with nonprofits abroad and offer them media coverage in the U.S. to attract volunteers. Their idea has evolved rapidly -- they have five people on their executive team and 15 interns.
Keep looking at the world around you to find inspiration for a new business idea. As Adnan puts it, "The key is to just pay attention to the things around you, always keep reading and always try to find the lesson."
2. Mentors and networks of entrepreneurs can serve as your support system.
A successful small business or nonprofit often depends on the strength of your support network, and numerous resources exist if you know where to look. Startup America Partnership offers regional meet-ups, online tools for creating legal documents or recruiting contractors, and resources tailored for where you are in the startup process. Use your personal network -- your parents, friends, classmates, professors, old bosses, etc. Kim and James Evans, GiveYourGap.org's Chief Financial Officers, count their parents among their best mentors.
Adnan talked to many people he trusted about his idea to get different perspectives, saying:
I reached out to good friends who I knew had particular skill sets I didn't have, like programming, and we started building something small and testing it. It's important to throw your idea out there and don't be afraid to talk about it.
Being in college or a recent college grad, there are many free resources that are available to you. Tanai advises college grads to get started as early as possible:
Write a business plan, network with alumni, take an entrepreneurship class. There's a ton of resources while you're in college that you lose once you graduate, like business plan competitions or free exposure in the school press.
3. There are resources out there to get your venture off the ground.
Ashoka's 20/20 Challenge invites 20 entrepreneurs to tackle 20 of the world's biggest challenges. Selected Ashoka fellows could receive anywhere from $35,000 to $125,000 in start-up financing, depending on geographic location and the project. One such challenge will offer $10,000 to creators of solutions that can cross borders to improve health care in other countries. Similarly, Echoing Green offers over $2 million in seed funding to a diverse group of social entrepreneur fellows.
In some states, self-employment assistance is available for individuals to receive unemployment benefits for the purposes of supporting their startup venture. Under President Obama's jobs plan, all 50 states could start this voluntary program and offer self-employment assistance for up to 26 weeks -- or about $10,000 to $13,000 in funding for entrepreneurs.
Creativity goes a long way. Jun Loyaza raised $75,000 in angel funding for his startup, Viralogy, by making an organized, structured appeal on his personal blog (his blog, by the way, contains great advice on how you can do the same).
4. You probably don't have a mortgage to pay or family to support.
Chances are you'll be living back home with your parents. Why not use this time to take a risk? It will only get harder to take on the risks of starting your own business if you have children or other major financial obligations.
Starting your own business has a potentially amazing upside reward if you put in the time, energy, and commitment to make it work -- but the downside risk always exists. Kim and the other GiveYourGap.org staff are putting in their personal savings to fund their organization's start-up costs.
Despite the risks, it's worth seriously thinking about how to take your idea and turn it into a sustainable venture. Adnan recalls that while his friends went down well-laid paths to investment banking or large companies after college, he chose to start his first company instead. He says, "It was definitely a little daunting, but the perfect time to take risks is when you are young, especially on things you are passionate about. You will learn more about yourself and how to get things done than you could have ever imagined."
5. Being your own boss means you can do what you love.
What has made GiveYourGap.org so attractive, says Kim, is that "what young people are looking for is a sense of purpose, especially while so many of us are working these temp jobs and trying to get by. Having something in your life that inspires you is so important -- that is why people are joining our organization."
You could spend years of your life in an entry-level job, being the lowest rung on the ladder, doing administrative work that you didn't need a college degree for (or even a high school degree). Instead, starting a business allows you to take control of your future and your career. Adnan put it this way:
There's a huge benefit in actively paying attention to the direction you want your life to take. It's a bigger risk to wake up one morning 20 years later, full of regret, wondering why you didn't take the chance. Most startups fail, but the people who start them become better and wiser. It's an investment in yourself.
Or, as Kim says, "It's time to get creative. The opportunities are so much slimmer now, and they are not as inspiring as doing something you're passionate about." James added one caveat: "Work your butt off."
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