Click image for story PDF
Though their pools of wisdom may be shallow, their reservoirs of derring-do are as deep as an ocean trench. They are the next generation of Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs – those men and women age 20 and younger who never met a challenge they couldn’t embrace, a computer they couldn’t master or a dream they couldn’t live.
It was someone very old, near the end of his days, afflicted by all the diseases and disappointments of his rough span on Planet Earth, who once coolly observed, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” Which may be another way of saying it takes a lifetime to become young.
If it does, don’t bother dispensing German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche’s advice to a new cohort of young entrepreneurs who have no trouble at all embracing their inner children if only because, by every definition, outwardly they still are.
Meet Generation Plus, the 20-and-under-somethings who are making their own way in the world of business – with or without help from their elders – decades ahead of the conventional schedules established by the professional life-coach career-planning industry. While their predecessors, at their age, mowed lawns, stocked grocery shelves and languished in other minimum wage ghettos, these folks are luxuriating in the self-esteem that self-employment purchases. And their ranks are growing.
According to recent Government of Canada research on the state of small business and entrepreneurship in the country: “Since 1996, young entrepreneurs have been entering the small- and medium-sized business marketplace at an average of approximately three times the rate per year of entrepreneurs over the age of 45. Today, young entrepreneurs are found in all sectors of the economy. What’s more, businesses owned by youth are more likely to be high growth and financially viable.”
All of which may seem counterintuitive. After all, the barriers to growth facing even the most seasoned small businessman and woman are notoriously legion, especially in Atlantic Canada: lousy access to bank capital for start-up, expansion, equipment, and marketing; insufficient resources for innovation and export development; comparatively inconstant and unskilled labour markets; and the seemingly ageless presumption, purveyed by many of the “gainfully employed”, that entrepreneurship is something you do when you can’t find or keep a “real job”.
So what does the 20-and-under crowd know that the rest of us don’t? Are they smarter, braver and more diligent? Are they more educated, better skilled and less concerned about making a quick buck? Or are they simply too young, naïve and dumb to understand that their eventual failure is inevitable? (Says dear, old mom: Don’t play with that spreadsheet, junior, you’ll poke your eye out).
Or is there some strange, almost ineffable, combination of factors and qualities that renders this generation… well, Generation Plus?
The questions aren’t merely academic. In short order, the most populous cohort of workers, entrepreneurs and professionals in modern times – the baby boomers – will abandon the pitch for their summer homes and winter retreats, taking with them their knowledge, experience, productivity and money. On whose enthusiasm, ingenuity, and work ethic will we then depend for the long-term safety and progress of our economies other than the youngest – and youngest at heart – among us?
Clearly, we would profit by getting to know some of them just a little better.
World domination, one site at a time
Entrepreneur: Nicholas MacLeod (20 years old) Business Name: Future Web Design Location: Charlottetown, PEI Industry: Information technology Years in Operation: 7
For Nicholas MacLeod, there was no Eureka, epiphany or otherwise trenchant moment of what self-help books and career manuals like to call self-actualization. There was, however, a 65-year-old dog trainer who needed some help with a web site.
“She was a friend of the family,” the University of Prince Edward Island business major recounts to elucidate how he started his own enterprise in 2003 at the tender age of 13. “She wanted to promote her pure breeds, but she didn’t know much about the Internet. So, I offered to set her up online. It worked out pretty well.”