Students who are looking to build start-ups: be wary

Mark Zuckerberg: 21; Nick d’Aloisio: 17; Kevin Systrom: 28; Caterina Fake: 33; Jack Dorsey: 30. These are the ages at which the founders of Facebook, Summly, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter launched their companies. These young and ambitious entrepreneurs constitute an elite and well-known core of self-made millionaires, but they didn’t come waltzing in with their inexperience and student loans; many of these entrepreneurs have been thinking up their ideas since adolescence. Meanwhile, many college graduates are shooting for similar aspirations without realizing the neither the demand of entrepreneurship or the risks at hand.

In a sort of irony, our aging population has been increasingly worshiping youth culture and how the people in the limelight are getting younger by the day. In March, Yahoo bought Summly, a start-up created by a 17-year-old d’Aloisio for $30 million, making him one of the youngest self-made multi-millionaires ever. Self-made jobs are attractive, but are they made by people due to being disjoined from the labor market, or instead are they an alternative to the chaotic job market and a chance to create what isn’t out there already?

An increasing number of college graduates are in for a rude welcome when they enter the job market. In 2012, 53.6% of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed, the highest number in the last 11 years according to Census data and U.S. Department of Labor. Meanwhile, many people are looking for ways to get by without depending on friends and family. As a result, The younger generation has been pushed to redefine stability, and they often turn to self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship as a possible solution.

About 12 years ago Scott Gerber was in the same situation now frightfully frequent for many: graduating with thousands in student loans and no plans for the future. Rather than wallow, he created an opportunity for himself, and started his own company that unfortunately crashed shortly thereafter. Call it stubbornness or determination, but he then took on even more loans to start a new media company called SizzleIt. It didn’t make him a millionaire or a Zuckerberg, but Graber was able to not only move out of his parents house, but stand on his own feet. This story is one much like many lesser known, but more common instances of self-made success. This is the sort of story that those with a diploma in their hands and debt on their mind dream of: the ability to create their own opportunities

The ridge between both the billionaire and well-off entrepreneur is one created by opportunity. The top dogs choose to launch their startups. It wasn’t an alternative or a fall back from an unsuccessful launch into the employment market; it was a choice. They sought realization for a concrete idea in a demanding market to which venture capitalism was a means, not an end. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, half of all new businesses fail within the first five years. The decision to make a start-up is a well-known gamble but the triumph of the victorious few fuels the idea that it is worth it to many.

Meanwhile entrepreneurial opportunity is more accessible than ever before. Unlike other well-established fields there is no supremacy of the experienced. An amateur launching a business from his dorm room in Oregon can generate the same buzz than a well-established business mogul. In the 1950’s you needed a corner office on Madison Ave., but now all you need is a laptop.

Newly released data from the National Business Incubation Association shows that one third of incubators—accessible space designed for start-ups to blossom—are at universities. Even non-tech, publicly unaffiliated universities like University of Syracuse have invested in start-up incubators. But fantasies of inspriational college students aren’t enough to ensure a successful business. Many student start-ups however don’t follow Facebook’s path to success. As Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program’s business adviser Jeffrey Babin says, “Ideas are a dime a dozen—whoever gets it to the market in the fastest and most effective manner wins.”

There is a growing misconception about young adults starting successful businesses; They are neither uninspired nor unmanaged. Start-ups are outshining any job that has a boss, a schedule or an office, but there is definitely a living to be made in the resistance.


—Heloise Mercier ‘16 is a student at Vassar College.

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