Millennials and Startup Businesses

Article from UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone for Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington County Workforce Development Board Publication

The Atlantic headline reads, “The Myth of the Millennial Entrepreneur” while the Fortune headline proclaims, “‘Millennipreneurs’ Are Starting More Businesses, Targeting Higher Profits.” With disparate headlines like these it’s challenging to gauge the state of entrepreneurship with millennials.

Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are self-employed at higher rates (7.6% and 8.3%, respectively) than Millennials (2%), according to the Small Business Administration. Does this mean that Millennials aren’t interested in starting new businesses? Thirty years ago, approximately 250 courses in entrepreneurship were offered on U.S. college campuses. By 2013, there were 400,000 students taking courses in entrepreneurship. Millennials are clearly interested in entrepreneurism and campuses like UW-Milwaukee are incubators of innovation.

Our region and state need innovators, critical thinkers and entrepreneurs – for economic vitality and for addressing societal issues and solving problems. For example, Jordan Mather, a UWM senior studying marketing, created Health Snaps, a Snapchat-like mobile platform that enables health care providers to communicate with patients through instructional videos, messaging and visual progress tools. Unlike Snapchat, patients can retain information.

Another example is Jared Judge, a music graduate student, who created Dream City Music, a startup company that connects local musicians and artists with event and wedding planners. Jared is one of the winners of UWM’s Student Start-up Challenge. Now in its fifth year, we are seeing significant growth in the number of competitors. In the first four years combined, 30 teams competed. This year alone 27 teams competed. This group of entrepreneurs benefited from custom-designed tracks to help move teams forward. The diversity of ideas that come forward through this challenge is remarkable. These competitors are the changemakers of our future and UWM is investing in their success.

Yet, there are documented challenges for Millennials who hope to start their own companies. A challenging economy and tight availability of financing contribute to less risk-taking while many of these entrepreneurs are also grappling with college debt. At the same time, our local and national economies demand the injection of new ideas and the development of companies that will increase our local and global competitiveness.

These are just some of the reasons why UW-Milwaukee is building its culture of innovation, expanding partnerships and growing entrepreneurism. Our Lubar Entrepreneurship Center is among the most exciting developments in the area. This center will bring together students and aspiring young entrepreneurs with successful business leaders and entrepreneurs who know how to navigate the risks of building a new business. Our goal is to develop and train student entrepreneurs from all disciplines to help spark net new job growth in our region, along with innovation and creativity in existing organizations. Additionally, Milwaukee is the only I-Corps site in Wisconsin. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it provides networking and training to move scientific discoveries from university labs to the marketplace.

While the headlines about Millennials and start-up companies are mixed, the time is right for us to step forward to educate, inspire and help direct new generations of leaders who will build our region’s future economy.