Young bosses take charge
Millennials lead entrepreneurial spirit in region
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The young, local founders of a new networking website are convinced that more than ever, success is not about what you know.
“It’s about who you know,” says Rochester’s James Brown, 26.
When Brown and former Simon Graduate School of Business classmate Chris Sturgill, 31, noticed that their peers were having more luck landing jobs after graduation from building relationships than posting resumes on major online sites such as Monster, the friends launched Goalee, a networking site that helps users achieve their goals by blending the benefits of professional networking sites like LinkedIn with matchmaking sites like eHarmony.
As members of Generation Y, defined as those generally born in the early 1980s or after and often referred to as Millennials, the pair epitomize the characteristics — independent, tech-savvy problem-solvers with ambition, for instance — of what has been called, whether by pure ingenuity or necessity, the most entrepreneurial generation ever.
“It’s easier for us than for older people to envision becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, because we’ve been brought up with technology that makes us able to create solutions that are far more accessible than in the past. We can reach millions of people, and quickly, by helping them connect to each other, and that type of spread is both really empowering and very unique to our generation.”
The recently released 2011 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, funded by the nonprofit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, found that entrepreneurs ages 20 to 34 launched more start-ups in 2011 than any other age group except 45 to 54 year-olds. That’s positive news for a persistently unpredictable job market, one that has been credited with fueling a distrust of large organizations among Millennials, a group estimated at more than 70 million people.
But there needs to be a lot more business growth in this age range before Generation Y meshes its potential with results.
“Anecdotal evidence tells us that this is a very entrepreneurial generation, and certainly we’re seeing some of that in Rochester,” says Richard DeMartino, director of the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Rochester Institute of Technology. “But there’s an interesting contradiction in the number of people who say they want to create a business and the actual number who do.”
A separate poll funded by Kauffman last winter found that while nearly half of Millennials want to become business owners, only 8 percent overall have launched their own ventures, and just 11 percent intend to do so within the next year. Cited barriers include concerns about the economy, an inability to access start-up capital, lack of access to education and training, and few mentors.
Stamina, on the other hand, is largely in full supply, at least for 30-year-old Voula Maria Stratton of Rochester, who opened Voula’s Greek Sweets, a cafe, bakery and market on Monroe Avenue, in February. She typically works 65 to 70 hours a week.
“You have the energy at this age,” she says. “And I was definitely raised to have confidence. My parents told me I could do whatever I wanted.”
In high school, Stratton would come home from working at a Greek restaurant and recruit her mom to help replicate various spreads. Soon, she was concocting her own dishes, using her studio art education from college to add flair to their presentation. These days, she is responsible for every aspect of her business — from banking and inventory to shopping for ingredients, cooking and serving — and has time only to worry about the fact that she hasn’t yet written down any of her recipes.
“I just know that I was meant to do this,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about somebody looking over me and saying, ‘Voula, get back in there and do something.’ But that means I can only blame myself if I forget anything.”
Another Generation Y entrepreneur, 29-year-old Bounce Aerobics co-owner Christine Pilaroscia, recalls feeling frustrated when, as a group fitness instructor at several regional gyms, her pay was capped at $20 per class even though she was pulling in between 60 and 100 people. In October 2009, she and her 31-year-old sister, exercise instructor Maria Ritzel, started renting out space in a dance studio and advertising classes on Craigslist (in as many categories as they could deem appropriate). By early 2010 they were searching for a larger, permanent space – first on their own, then with their dad in tow.
“We were two young girls and no one was taking us seriously,” says Pilaroscia, who lives in Chili.
In May 2010 the women moved Bounce, which now has 12 instructors and a front-desk staff, to The Marketplace Mall in Henrietta. Their mother, always a silent partner, became an official co-owner and instructor as well.
“It’s rewarding to build your own thing and to know it’s yours,” says Pilarsocia. “But the biggest benefit is that can make our own schedules and be home with our kids more than we’re at our business. And we get paid to work out.”
« Back to Articles