Millennials came of age in a world powered by the products of rockstar entrepreneurs - Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Alexis Ohanian. TV Shows like Shark Tank, highlighting the aspirations and potential success of entrepreneurs, drew audiences of over 6 million. Meanwhile, the 2008 recession threw the stability of traditional career paths into question. It's no wonder, then, that millennials seem to look very favorably upon entrepreneurship. But is this younger generation actually more entrepreneurial than preceding generations? The data is split. In this final article in my series on how millennials are transforming the workforce, I explore what entrepreneurship really means to millennials.

Aspirations to Entrepreneurial Success

Most surveys on millennial perceptions of entrepreneurship reach a similar conclusion - this generation has set their sights on an entrepreneurial lifestyle. One such recent survey found that 66% of millennials had goals to start their own business. This may be because millennials view starting their own business as a path to financial independence and a flexible work-life balance. 61% of millennials expressed a belief that they could find more job security by owning their own business, as opposed to working for someone else. On the contrary, 64% of Baby Boomers felt working for someone else provided greater job security.

These numbers are even higher and rising with younger members of the generation. Data from Oxford University shows that almost 15% of incoming students reported an interest in becoming entrepreneurs in October 2016. By the following year, the figure had already risen to 19%.

Failing - And Failing Often

Despite these high levels of interest in starting their own businesses, data shows millennials are actually less likely to be entrepreneurs than previous generations. Data from the US Small Business Administration found that fewer than 4% of 30-year-olds were self-employed full-time. At the same age, 5.4% of Generation X-ers and 6.7% Baby Boomers were fully self-employed, indicating decreased levels of entrepreneurship within the millennial generation. In fact, the number of self-employed Americans under the age of 30 has dropped by 65% since 1980.

So what is preventing millennials with entrepreneurial aspirations from pursuing them? Lack of financial resources may be one factor. In fact, 42% of millennials cited lack of money as the primary obstacle to starting their own business. No wonder, when 58% also report they are still carrying student debt. It may also be that millennials are still feeling the after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis. US Census Bureau data shows that start-up creation rates have still yet to rebound to pre-crisis levels.

One other possible obstacle is lack of experience. Data shows that the most successful founders are 45 years old, and those in their twenties are least likely to build a high-growth generating firm. Millennials, more so than older generations, believe that a lack of small business knowledge is one of the primary obstacles preventing them from starting their own business.

Transforming Industries

Despite this, millennials entrepreneurs are transforming industries. Those millennials who are actively starting their own businesses are doing so at a rate that well exceeds the entrepreneurs who came before them. A report from BNP Paribas shows that entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 and 35 had, on average, already founded double the amount of businesses as those over 50. This indicates that millennials who pursue entrepreneurship are not afraid to fail - and fail repeatedly - on their path to success in self-employment.

Many companies founded by entrepreneurs seek to - and succeed in - turning traditional industries on their head. Stephanie Lampkin, 32, founded Blendoor to provide software that prevents and actively flags bias in HR recruiting processes. Her clients include Facebook, Google, Twitter and Airbnb.

Richard Lavina, 30, started Taxfyle, which takes an uber-like approach to connecting users to licensed tax professionals. Taxfyle enables customers to file a return in an average of 45 minutes, and has over 30,000 users and more than 700 CPAs on the platform.

Whitney Wolfe Herd sought to disrupt an already disruptive industry - online dating - when she launched Bumble. After experiencing harassment through existing online dating options, Wolfe Herd had the idea for a dating app where women initiated the first conversation. Bumble now has around 20 million users worldwide.

It's not surprising, given research on the generation's values, that so many of the companies founded by millennials are driven by social purpose. While many of the generation are hindered by financial instability or lack of experience, millennials continue to seek opportunities to pursue a personal passion while taking ownership over their work-life balance. And with so many examples of non-traditional means to success - from startup rockstars to social media mega-influencers - entrepreneurship may seem like the solution. The question remains whether that outsized appetite will manifest in a groundswell of future action.

Published on: Nov 30, 2018