For young entrepreneurs, starting new businesses is often more about passion than profit.
The millennial generation — made up of young adults born between 1980 and 2000 — now represents the largest share of American workers, according to the Pew Research Center. But, unlike the older generations before them, some millennials don’t necessarily equate work with corporations or making a profit, experts say.
Instead, many opt to pursue their passions and champion social causes.
“Millennials are very concerned about social issues,” said Terri Denison, Georgia District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “They have a confidence in what they’re doing because they feel so strong about their particular issue.”
More than three-fourths of millennials are influenced by their passions, according to the Case Foundation’s Millennial Report. More than 65 percent feel they can make a difference for a cause they care about — whether it’s launching their own startups or finding a corporation conscious about social causes.
“If you want to radically completely change the thought process and ideas, you want to bring in people who don’t know anything,” said Travis Allen, 24, who started a technology company that works with schools.
This is an age of social entrepreneurship — making money by changing the world in a positive way, Allen said.
“You’re always supposed to give back to your community,” said Shawn Walton, 29, executive director of WeCycle Atlanta, Inc., located in the city’s West End where he calls home. “That’s what I was taught, and that’s what I practice.”
‘Providing something that’s free and engaging’
Walton, a Morehouse College graduate, bought WeCycle’s first set of rental bikes with the money left over from his college refund check.
“I was always known as the kid on the bicycle,” said Walton, who has a degree in early childhood education and teaching.
But he knew when he opened his nonprofit business in July 2011 that it would be more than just a one-stop-shop for bike rentals and repairs. Walton envisioned his business as a community center, and that center now sits on Oak Street across from the West End Park.
With his alma mater only blocks away, Walton focused on building a stronger bridge between the community and the institution. Walton sees the West End in ways he thinks others don’t. He cycled around the college daily.
What Walton didn’t see was a community center at the heart of where West End kids played at the basketball courts or outside by the parks.
He started small — renting bicycles to kids in the neighborhood. Then came bike tours and a community garden.
Now, he offers after school programs for children to learn about eating right and getting exercise and other healthy lifestyles.
The business strategy of launching services in stages is making entrepreneurs like Walton successful at a young age, Denison said.
“It’s very action-oriented,” she said. “They’ll come up with a minimally viable business plan and launch it. They adjust accordingly.”
Walton wants to make sure no child goes unreached and focuses his efforts in low-income areas.
“Their parents don’t have the financial means to pay for the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA,” he said.
Like most college graduates, Walton didn’t have much money on his own to keep his business going. But he found ways to compensate for that. He considered crowdfunding and call-outs on social media. Denison said that’s common among millennial business owners.
“They’re younger and haven’t had the time to accumulate assets,” she said. “Not having the money is becoming less and less of an issue.”
Walton got financial support from the Morehouse School of Medicine and more than 700 people volunteer their time to ride a bike, play chess or just eat tacos.
“If it’s not people giving a dime, it’s people coming in and giving their time,” he said.
‘It made no sense’
A frustrating high school experience led Allen, a Kennesaw State University senior, to start his own a business.
Allen sat in class at Whitewater High School taking notes on his cell phone. Before he knew it, his teacher took away his phone, explaining he couldn’t have it out during class.
“It made no sense,” said the 24-year-old from Fayetteville.
So on the day of his 18th birthday, Allen officially started the iSchool Initiative to teach teachers how to use technology in the classroom.
“Here I am, 18 at the time, going into the industry of education where it’s credentials, PhDs, and I’m coming in as an 18-year-old saying this is what I think education needs,” Allen said.
To make his vision work, Allen eschewed a traditional business structure in favor of a combination of donations and for-profit services. The company gets a fee from school districts but uses it to help implement the services, like integrating the technology into the classroom, as well as training teachers on how to use it effectively.
Last year, iSchool deployed more than 7,600 iPads to Anderson School District One students as part of its mobile integration plan for all 14 district schools. It’s done work in 40 states and seven countries.
Allen could have worked for a corporate business for 10 years then started his own business like several of his peers. But, he said, there are different ways to achieve the same goal.
“The beauty of being a young entrepreneur is that you have less obligations, less bills, no kids, no marriage and responsibilities,” he said. “Now is the time to take risks.”
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