The cartoon version of a millennial worker shows up late every day and complains that there's no oat milk left for her pour-over coffee. She snaps endless selfies with office dogs and then spends an hour crafting cute hashtags for Instagram before doing any actual work. 

While millennials (myself included) do tend to love a good dog selfie and a cup of pour-over, our "spoiled" reputation doesn't quite align with the latest data.

Pew Research Center found that the median net worth of a household headed by a millennial is 17 percent less than the typical Gen X household was at the same life stage -- and nearly 40 percent lower than Boomer households were. Why? A lot more debt and a slow start to careers, thanks to the Great Recession.

Failure to launch

It's a favored tradition amongst well-established generations to look at younger generations with contempt. People love to tease millennials -- calling them lazy, entitled, and self-involved -- but research by Boston Consulting Group shows that these stereotypes are unfounded. 

Yes, there are generational differences -- driven largely by technology and social trends -- but millennials as a whole are ambitious and idealistic. Not only do they want to "make the world a better place," but a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that millennials work significantly more hours and have higher levels of education than previous generations.

Considering that education costs have risen 65 percent and food costs have increased 26 percent since 1996, it's clear that the struggle is real. Many millennials live in survival mode, trying to keep up with basic expenses. 

How entrepreneurship can help millennials overcome the odds

It gets harder and harder to build wealth after a person takes on a huge quantity of debt -- that's simply a reality. But, it's not all doom and gloom. Through entrepreneurship, many millennials are inventing their own lucrative careers to build a brighter future. 

By running my own business as a side hustle before going full-time, I was able to avoid student debt and save enough money to buy my first home before 30 years-old. Here are a few quick tips for other millennials considering entrepreneurship as a path forward. 

1. Start small, but start now

You will be amazed by the business you can build if you work on it for just a few hours per week. It is possible to hold down a full-time job and run a side hustle if you prioritize your time well. Write a short business plan, create a website, and talk to prospective customers. You will learn so much during these early steps and they will make your idea more concrete. But, don't wait to get started or your business will remain just an idea.

2. Do not fear the cold email

If you send cold emails to a lot of people, you will get a lot of rejections (or no reply at all). I have personally received more one-line "not interested" responses than I can count. But, reaching out to potential customers is essential, and you don't need everyone to say yes (they won't). You just need a few early believers to start gaining momentum.

3. Seek mentors

Starting a business is a complex process. I constantly feel out of my depth, but I've learned that this is normal. Every entrepreneur is learning as they go. You can avoid a number of major mistakes, however, by seeking mentors to advise you. Many organizations exist that connect aspiring entrepreneurs to seasoned business owners if you need help.

4. Find your "unfair advantage"

If you want to build a successful business, you will make progress much faster by following your "unfair advantage." Essentially, this is what makes you uniquely qualified to pursue an idea. Maybe you're intimately familiar with a specific industry or have a rare skill set. You don't have to start the first and only business in your field, but you should feel confident in your ability to deliver a given product or service.

With student debt at $1.4 trillion and counting, something's gotta give. But, fortunately, opportunities abound for entrepreneurial millennials. With a little ingenuity and courage, perhaps we'll soon catch up to our Baby Boomer parents (or at least move out of their basements).

Published on: Oct 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.