Last week I talked to several students -- recent graduates -- who were excited about their future. They were ready to embark on the next step of their lives; they knew where they were going (at least in the near term) and were optimistic and ready to go. What jobs did they have and how did they find them? They made them. These students were entrepreneurs, who had created their jobs by launching their own businesses.
I'm not talking about huge start-ups funded by angel investors or trust funds. These were cobbled together with small savings accounts, maybe a few bucks from family and friends. Will any of these small businesses be the next Facebook? With luck and hard work it's possible.
But, it's important not to get caught up in trying to create the next Facebook! For so many folks, the thought of launching is so daunting that they never try. How can I create a billion dollar company? How can I figure out ways to raise millions of dollars from angel and Venture Capital investors? Next thing you know they are overwhelmed and the idea dies. Most businesses start out small, and grow over time. Someone sees a need in the marketplace and comes up with a way to fill it. It can be as simple as that.
Seven years ago when I made the transition from the business world to the world of higher education running a center for entrepreneurship, I had parents who complained to me when their kids decided to take a course in entrepreneurship. "Why should my son study that?" or "That's a waste of my daughter's time," were remarks I heard more than once. Today, thanks to the success of folks like Mark Zuckerberg, Dennis Crowley and Jack Dorsey, parents are telling me with pride, "My kid wants to be an entrepreneur."
For many just-graduating students, entrepreneurship is a path forward, an opportunity to control their own destiny. Thanks to the wide range of entrepreneurship and small business management classes that are offered in higher education, students are coming out of school better prepared than any generation before them to start and grow their own business. My own College of Business at Lynn University, has just launched an Entrepreneurship and Family Business Management major at the request of many of our students and their parents. Like any good business, we listen to our customers and clients and so we're launching that major for the students entering in the fall of 2013. Not only that, every one of our freshman will take a class in Entrepreneurship and Innovation as one of their first business courses.
Students today approach the notion of starting their own business with a sense of optimism and hope and with the knowledge that if they do launch and fail, no one will tattoo an 'L' on their forehead branding them a loser. They know that even if they launch and fail, they will accumulate experience, skill sets, and knowledge, that will make them a more valuable and mature team member to an employer. If they succeed, they win, and if they fail they can still win.
Several years ago, when I was at Syracuse University, a young sophomore named Ryan came to me about an idea he had for a business. He had a long list of questions, he asked for help, and then he listened. Every time Ryan and I talked, he was moving his idea farther down the road. He was smart, he listened to me and other mentors and perhaps more importantly, he was a hard worker. Ryan was a broke college student, but he had a dream. Two years after that first meeting Ryan appeared as the cover of a story in a national publication on Cool Campus Startups. Ryan is now a graduate, his company Rylaxer is still small, but it's growing, and he's hiring recent graduates.
The students I talked to recently have every opportunity to be like Ryan. They're smart, they're good networkers, they know how critical it is to listen to their mentors, they know the value of working really, really hard and they want to take their idea, adjust it as necessary and see if it has potential. Will it be an easy path? Absolutely not. But, it is a start. They made themselves a job. For some of them, it may not work out, but it will be the pathway to a job at a corporation or maybe even a non-profit venture. For others though, this will be a lifelong entrepreneurial journey. Maybe, just maybe, they do create the next Facebook. But in the meantime, they'll be in control of their own lives, they'll be hiring other graduates and folks from the community and oh yeah, they'll also be helping our economy grow.