Young people want to ditch the boss and strike out on their own

In a recent survey of working adults, Harris Poll and CreativeLive — an online education company — found that many more young workers than older workers want to jump ship from their traditional jobs and become self-employed. 67 percent of employed Millennials (aged 18 to 34) want to go off and start their own business, compared to 45 percent of workers aged 35 and over.

More than a quarter of Millennials consider it more likely that they’ll start a business now that the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance easier to obtain and more affordable without having an employer that offers coverage. Only 15 percent of older workers feel that way.

This week, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) brought a few dozen bright young entrepreneurs to Washington, D.C. for the educational organization’s annual gala. Many of the students (from the U.S. and abroad) planned or launched their businesses in high school. Here are a few of their pitches:

“Most people don’t have the budget of a McDonald’s or a Folgers or a Kit Kat. That’s why I created Superb Tune jingle production company, that tends to the young entrepreneur and growing businesses.” -- Annie Nirschel, Stamford, Connecticut

“My business is a software developer company. We have created a game called Better Than History, it allows players to step into the shoes of historical figures, so they can answer the timeless question—what if we could change the past?” --Juan Ramos, Dallas, Texas

“'Modesty', which is a clothing line, is aimed at targeting women who feel comfortable in the skin that they’re in, and allows them to show their inner beauty and confidence through wearing modest and trendy and fashionable clothing.” -- Deena Kishawi, Chicago, Illinois

Interest in studying entrepreneurship in programs like NFTE's, and at the college level, is growing, says Dane Stangler, vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “The Millennials would certainly appear to be more predisposed to entrepreneurship than prior generations,” says Stangler. And yet: “The 20-to-34-year-old age cohort still has a far lower percentage rate of entrepreneurship than older cohorts, and that rate has actually fallen in the last couple of years.”

Stangler offers at least one possible explanation: “No matter how badly you want to be an entrepreneur, no matter how low the cost of starting certain kinds of companies, if you come out of school with $60,000 in debt, entrepreneurship may not be as attractive an option.”

At the University of Portland, business- and non-business majors participate in the school’s popular entrepreneurship program. Many students explore launching a startup during or after college, though the draw of more traditional paid work is strong, given the financial pressures recent graduates face.

Eileen Kannengeiser is a political science and Spanish major, and hasn’t decided yet what she’ll do after graduation. “None of us wants to be living in a cardboard box after we graduate just to be able to pursue whatever we would like to pursue,” she says.

History major Danielle Knott is jumping right in. She says like many young people, she needs a way to pay student debt and bills, and pursue her creative dreams. “I have a receptionist job, but I’m also starting a feminist food magazine," titled "Render", says Knott. "I definitely identify more as an entrepreneur. And I think a lot of liberal arts majors don’t understand that in the current job market, you have to be really entrepreneurial with your degree. And with things like Kickstarter, instead of trying to create the next Apple, people are being entrepreneurial about projects that they’re starting, to improve their quality of life instead of making them millions of dollars.”

Marketing major Alex Gatewood says there’s the hype, and then the reality and sacrifice, of entrepreneurship.

“Being an entrepreneur has kind of become like our generation’s professional athlete or musician,” says Gatewood. “You know exactly who Mark Zuckerberg is. But what it takes to actually be that person? When it comes to paying the bills, those things just fall by the wayside.”

This may be the generation that knows the most about entrepreneurs, but doesn’t have the wherewithal to actually join their ranks, at least not for a while.


Issues of entrepreneurship and first jobs aren't just illuminating for Millenials. We asked people here at Marketplace about their first job and any experience starting their own business:

Kai Ryssdal, host and senior editor

First job? If you don't  count mowing lawns and painting for the school district,  my first actual job was lifeguarding at a hotel on Waikiki Beach. Summer after junior year in college. And yes, it was as great as you think it was.

Have you ever run your own business? Not an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

Scott Tong, senior reporter, sustainability

First job? Made conversational English-language tapes for Taiwanese kids in a Taipei studio. "Orange is a color and a fruit. Okay now, again, but slower." Age: 11. Compensation: obscenely good.

Have you ever run your own business? Freelance radio and TV journalist. Age: 34. Compensation: meager.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer, senior reporter, Washington

First job? Stall mucker: I mucked out stalls at a local stable in exchange for free horseback riding.  I eventually saved up enough from babysitting and a paper route to buy my own horse. Honest-to-god, her name was ‘Pokey.’ 

Have you ever run your own business? I was a freelance reporter for a time so I guess that qualifies as running my own business.

Tommy Andres, producer, Marketplace

First job? My first job was being a ballboy for the Detroit Pistons, working in the visitors locker room, picking up sweaty towels and staying up well past my usual weeknight curfew. Charles Barkley once called me the ugliest kid he’d ever seen. I think he was joking, but I did have bright blue braces and all the physical trappings of a teenager (zits). I shagged balls for Michael Jordan when he returned to the NBA out of retirement. He came early—it was just Michael, me and 25,000 empty seats. I’ll never forget that.

Have you ever run your own business? I've never run my own business. I'm a slave to the man.

Mitchell Hartman, senior reporter, entrepreneurship

First job? Cashier, 7-Eleven, New Jersey. I was nearly fired for making up prices on the fly when the line got long and the customers got ugly—this was before bar codes.

Have you ever run your own business? Freelance reporter in Europe and the Middle East, filing for BBC, CBC and Pacifica. I spent more on travel and fancy meals than I made for my stories, but I did once get Marcel Marceau to speak on tape for a BBC story about an arts festival in Southern France. I also reported on a band from the Sioux Nation coming to a little village in France to receive a donation of one chestnut orchard from a French lover of Indians atoning for his nation's age-old sins.

Meg Cramer, producer, Marketplace Tech

First job? Cafeteria server, Summer Place Retirement Residence. I applied for this job because it was walking distance from my house, and because I thought it would look good on my resume when I was old enough to apply for a waitressing job at Bertucci’s, which was also walking distance from my house.

Have you ever run your own business? I've never run a business, but not for lack of trying. (see photo to the right)

Sabri Ben-Achour, reporter, New York

First job? Shoveling manure at a plant nursery. 

Have you ever run your own business? Ran (and run) a ceramic art business.

Dave Shaw, senior editor, Washington

First job? Clerk, Blockbuster Video, Store No. 92531. I applied because I liked how they always said hello when customers came in the door. I eventually clawed my way up to be a part-time assistant manager.

Have you ever run your own business? Never run my own business, though I’ve done plenty of freelance and contract work, including a gig writing questions for pub trivia.

Sally Herships, reporter 

First job? Babysitter! I ran a summer camp out of my parent's attic and backyard and even outsourced additional help (younger kid to help me watch all the kids).

Have you ever run your own business? In addition to my summer camp dynasty--freelance reporter.

Dan Szematowicz, senior producer, Marketplace Money

First job? I gave “guided star tours” at the Museum of Science and Industry’s planetarium in Tampa, FL. In high school. I was often single. Coincidence?

Have you ever run your own business? My freshman year in college, I started a sports marketing business with a dorm neighbor of mine. At the time though I knew little about marketing, and less about sports business, so that didn’t work out so well.

Ben Johnson, host, Marketplace Tech

First job? Waiter at a seafood restaurant, Stonington, Connecticut. I was great with people but generally a horrible waiter. Side work—all the extra little things you do when you’re not serving or taking orders--was not my strong suits. Neither was the credit card machine.

Have you ever run your own business? Paper route. I had about 30 houses. I delivered papers on bicycle for all the old rich ladies in my town. I organized it all myself—chose the rates and mapped the route, picked delivery deadlines, worked with the newsstand guy, etc. It taught me the value of a quarter.

Sarah Gilbert, managing editor

First job? Frying fish and chips in a British seaside town. Haven’t felt the same about that particular delicacy since – and I still have the scars to remind me.

Have you ever run your own business? Nope, not unless you count a mercifully short stint at freelance-producing. I found out there are a lot of freelance producers out there.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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