Sponsored by Sage


By Rieva Lesonsky

I have long believed that Millennials (Americans born between 1982–2000) are the most inherently entrepreneurial generation this country has ever seen. A study from the Small Business Majority shows 51 percent of Millennials either own or would like to own a business someday. And although they’re hardly America’s first generation to embrace entrepreneurship, they’re trying to do it on their own: Of those that own businesses, 76 percent started them on their own, while 12 percent inherited the business, and 8 percent received it as a gift or through marriage.

Yet, a Harvard poll taken late last year of 18 to 29 year olds shows only 31 percent say starting their own business is “very important” or “one of the most important things in your life.” In comparison, 53 percent say having a stable job (even if it’s dull) is very important or “one of the most” important things in their lives.

Why the discrepancy? It seems to come down to money in general, and debt—student debt—in particular. The study from the Small Business Majority shows that 48 percent of Millennials currently paying off student debt who already own or have plans to start a business say paying off their student loans has “hurt their ability” to startup. And 38 percent who are interested in being entrepreneurs, but who have no current plans to start, say their student loan payments are impacting their ability to launch a business.

The Harvard poll seems to underscore this—60 percent of those polled say being successful in a high-paying career is either “very important” or “one of the most important things in their lives.” Does their desire for high-paying jobs reflect the hefty amounts of student loans they’re trying to pay off? Does having so much debt so early in life make entrepreneurship seem too risky—at least for now?

Of course there are exceptions reflected in the Harvard poll. Perhaps showing that business ownership can be a great financial equalizer—50 percent of African-American and 43 percent of Hispanic Millennials say starting their own businesses is “very important” or “one of the most important things in their lives,” compared with 24 percent of white Millennials.

And what about Generation Z? These younger Americans (those born from 2001 on) also seem to be on the entrepreneurial path. A study from Gallup shows 77 percent of kids in 5th-12 grades want to be entrepreneurs, 45 percent plan to start their own businesses and 42 percent say they’re going to invent something that changes the world. And another study from Millennial Branding released in 2014 shows 72 percent of high school students and 64 percent of college students want to start a business someday, and 61 percent of high school students and 43 percent of college students would rather be an entrepreneur instead of an employee once they graduate from college.

Part of this entrepreneurial drive about both Generations Y and Z is likely driven by impatience, experience and an innate desire to have a positive impact on the planet. Both generations have seen the affect The Great Recession had on the job market—and their parents. Many are tired of waiting for society to take on the numerous social issues impacting the globe. And most are digital natives with an inherent ability to use technology to improve themselves and the world.

That’s why it’s great to see programs such as this one from 21st Century Leaders. And why it’s so important that companies like Sage invest their energy and resources to help. At the Goizueta Youth Leadership Summit at Emory University, Goizueta Business School sponsored by Sage One in early February, high school students had the opportunity to learn that entrepreneurship is not just about making money, but about contributing to the greater good. As Lawton Ursrey, senior customer success manager, Sage One, and an entrepreneur himself says, “These young, impressionable adults are at a critical turning point and are poised to have enormous impact on the business landscape; we want to help make that impact responsible as well as profitable.”

Sage One is also sponsoring a scholarship program, offering future business leaders the opportunity to compete for $10,000 to put towards their college education. The contest is open to high school students graduating within the next 12 months or current college/university students enrolled full time at an accredited institution in the U.S. or Canada. Two prizes will be given: one to a student in Canada, one in the U.S. The deadline for this contest is May 31. You can find more details here.

Like Sage, we all need to foster the future generations of entrepreneurs in this country, not hinder them. If student debt and other challenges continue to hinder young people from following their entrepreneurial dreams, America’s role as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship will suffer, too. We have to be able to count on Gen Y and Z to create, innovate and invent. We need to invest in their futures, since the future of our planet is at stake.