The future of American business arrives in New York City today! Seventy-eight of the top 100 American entrepreneurs under 35 are convening at Empact Summit at the UN Millenium Hotel. This is an invite-only collaborative gathering featuring the most influential leaders in the youth entrepreneurship ecosystem, plus hundreds of top government, education, media, foundation and corporate leaders. I'm attending and will report back to you all week! Keep reading for my in-depth interview with Empact co-founder Sheena Lindahl and my upcoming coverage of many of these 100 companies that have a total of one billion in sales.
Featured delegates this year include Kay Koplovits founder of Sci-Fi channel and Springboard an innovative organization that helps women find venture capital, Jeff Hoffman, philanthropist and founder of Priceline, and Chip Paucek, Ceo of 2U and Hooked on Phonics. What an incredible opportunity for the invited young entrepreneurs to network with heavyweights who can help them take their businesses to the next level!
Sheena and Michael (from their website).
Empact Summit focuses on the future of entrepreneurship education, which means a lot to me, especially since Empact's founders -- husband-and-wife team Michael Simmons and Sheena Lindahl, along with Sarah Green -- have close ties with my organization, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).
In 2001, I was invited to an NYU event for young entrepreneurs to scout talent for NFTE. I walked up to the most charismatic young man in the room and tapped him on the shoulder. He was Michael Simmons and, at the time, he had a small Internet company. I knew from our first conversation that I had met one of the top young minds in the country in entrepreneurship. I liked him immediately, and offered him a job working with me as an assistant on the weekends.
Soon after Michael started working with me, his girlfriend Sheena also began working part time at NFTE. In 2006, Michael and Sheena got married. They started the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour (EET) with their friend Arel Moodie, traveling to college campuses around the country and hosting entrepreneurship events and training.
EET was such a hit that Sheena and Michael decided to expand with Empact. Empact celebrates young entrepreneurs through the Empact 100 Showcase and spreads their stories as part of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour. Empact also helps these emerging entrepreneurs succeed as independent keynote speakers across the world through Empact Connect.
In just six years, Empact has become a world-renowned firm specializing in entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial mindset, innovation and leadership events and programs. It has been such a thrill for me to see Michael and Sheena's business take off like this!
Once a year, Empact brings America's top young entrepreneurs together to share their ideas and form new relationships during the Empact Summit. I recently caught up with Sheena and asked her to tell me more about the Empact 100 Showcase and the value of entrepreneurship.
Steve Mariotti: What is the vision behind the Empact 100 Showcase?
Sheena Lindhal: Our goal is to celebrate the stories and faces of young entrepreneurs. We do this by selecting entrepreneurs 35 and younger from companies they have founded that have made at least $100,000. We focus on a variety of areas where entrepreneurs succeed. This ensures that the Empact 100 aren't just from the tech industry or super high-growth companies, but represent a real range of this country's young entrepreneurs.
Steve Mariotti: Tell us about this year's Empact conference, which you are holding in conjunction with the United Nations.
Sheena Lindhal: We moved to the United Nations this year because we needed more room! We ran out of space at the White House, where we held the event last year. What we do with the entrepreneurs on the Showcase is give recognition to the impact they are imparting to the world. In addition to the event at the UN, we bring these young entrepreneurs to organizations and colleges across the country to share their achievements. This is one element of what we want to do -- to share the success of these young people with others across the country.
The other experience we want to share is the loneliness that can be experienced running your own business. The entrepreneur has to project a particular image to clients and employees. It's hard to open up and reveal your inner self publicly. The unique thing about the Showcase is that we offer Master-Minding and Deep Relationship building exercises within a safe environment -- that's not often possible. Our careful vetting process ensures that everyone in attendance is a successful business person. This allows for each individual to feel more at ease opening up among his or her peers.
Steve Mariotti: Do you feel that entrepreneurship among young people is on the rise?
Sheena Lindhal: I think entrepreneurship is starting to be seen as a more viable career path. In part, this may be because safe, stable career paths of previous generations have proven in recent years to be less secure in the long run. I think the perception of entrepreneurs is still skewed towards those individuals involved in the tech industry -- people getting multi-million dollar investments right at the start. This stands in contrast to countless entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping and working their companies from the ground up outside the tech industry. These businesses may be flying under the radar, but are nonetheless growing into successful businesses.
This is why we are trying to show the many faces of entrepreneurship. Not everyone has the personality of Richard Branson or a business model like Mark Zuckerberg's. One type of entrepreneur is not more entrepreneurial than another.
Steve Mariotti: You've dealt with many of America's top young entrepreneurs. What are three key lessons that you've observed and would like to pass on?
Sheena Lindhal: What I've learned from the most successful people I've met is:
1. Be yourself and build your business culture around that. People who are trying to be what they think an entrepreneur should be or do what they think they are supposed to do tend to be less successful than those who are being themselves.
2. Folks who start now are more likely to succeed. No one ever feels one hundred percent ready to start. I think if you look at any successful company out there, none of them totally feel as successful on the inside as they may appear on the outside.
3. Build that community and that support network to help you keep going through tough times.
Steve Mariotti: You have two children, and have had to balance running a million-dollar company and being nationally known in your field with family life at a very young age. What have you learned about balancing work and life?
Sheena Lindhal: Well, Steve I actually wrote about it right here in my new article, "Why I No Longer Want to Have It All."
Steve Mariotti: Thank you! You and Michael are not only two of the top young entrepreneurs of your generation but also two of your generation's top educators!
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post listed delegates from a past Empact Summit. The post has been updated to list delegates from this year's Empact Summit.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled the name of Chip Paucek. The post has been updated to correct this.