09/19/2013 06:18 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

This Generation Means Business

We've heard the stereotype so often that many of us take it as fact: This new generation, the "millennials" (roughly 30 years old or under), is unfocused and entitled.

Oh really?

According to a recent report by the Kauffman Foundation, more than half of millennials (54 percent) have started their own businesses or want to start one.

Granted, if you examine millennials according to the metrics we've used to learn about the working lives of previous generations -- "labor participation rate," full-time vs. part-time employment, etc. -- you find that these young people are participating less today in the traditional workforce than were earlier generations. Indeed, millennials are represented less in the labor force today than they themselves were just a few years ago. A recent Gallup poll, for example, found that fewer Americans aged 18 to 29 worked full time for an employer in June 2013 (43.6 percent) than did so in June 2012 (47.0 percent).

But to conclude that this means millennials are lazy is taking the easy way out.

Job makers -- not job takers

Millennials are blazing their own path, many foregoing the job and career plan in favor of building their own businesses. One reason is simply necessity. The current job landscape isn't promising, and today's millennial generation -- connected, informed -- knows this. They've lived through two economic collapses, after all, and seeing bubbles burst can be a great motivator for taking charge of your own destiny.

Entrepreneurship powered by technology

Another reason so many millennials are choosing the entrepreneurial path is that they can.
New tools and technologies, like always-connected mobile devices and cloud-based applications, empower today's young people to do the type of work they want to do, when they want to do it. Often that means launching a business with little startup capital and few if any employees.

For example, a recent j2 Global Mid Year Small Business Report shows that 36 percent of millennial entrepreneurs use more than five mobile apps to run their businesses. That statistic might not read like a revolutionary statement, but it illuminates a profound change in the way we all do business today -- especially a cash-strapped young entrepreneur. Here's an example of what I mean.

Meet Anthony, 25, owner of a boutique marketing agency. He meets with his team to review a presentation for a major prospective client. Then he delivers the pitch himself, face-to-face, and reading the prospect's body language during the meeting, Anthony knows he's won the business. Sure enough, the next day -- while at his daughter's gymnastics competition -- Anthony's new client leaves him a voicemail welcoming his firm aboard. Anthony rounds up his team to pore over the contract, they mark up a few deal points, and after a brief back-and-forth Anthony signs and faxes the final draft to his brand new client.

The rub? None of the people described here were ever in the same room together -- many not even in the same time zone. Anthony, based in New York City, used a virtual videoconference application to hold the pre-pitch meeting with his team: a graphic designer in San Francisco, a web developer in Boston and a copywriter in Montreal. Then he used the same app to present to his prospect -- in Seattle.

The point is, none of these meetings took place in Anthony's office, because Anthony doesn't have an office (unless you count the Starbucks down the street). Like so many millennials (and older entrepreneurs), Anthony works out of his home -- or coffee shop, or train, or bleachers during his daughter's gym practices.

This illustrates another data point in the j2 Global Mid Year Small Business Report: 56 percent of millennials can see themselves able to work entirely from an iPad or tablet in the next year.

Back to Anthony. He used cloud-based collaboration tools (like Dropbox and Google Drive) to work with his team on their presentation and then the client agreement. And when he received that great "welcome-aboard" voicemail from his new client, Anthony didn't actually listen to it. The gym was too loud during his daughter's competition, so he "read" his voicemail, automatically transcribed in real time and emailed to him by his virtual phone system (eVoice). Finally, when he signed and faxed back the client agreement, Anthony didn't need paper, or a pen -- or even a fax machine. He did it all by email, using yet another cloud-communications tool (eFax.)

This ability to start a business with cost-effective (and sometimes even free) cloud-based and mobile tools, and the benefits of working wherever, whenever they want -- explains why the j2 Small Business Report found the overwhelming majority (94 percent) of millennial entrepreneurs are very optimistic for their businesses' growth for the rest of 2013.

So while the millennials may end up doing it differently, they definitely mean business.