How different are Millennials from Boomers when it comes to the entrepreneurial journey? What are the varying definitions of entrepreneurship and what are the myths and truths? While the news of the last decade suggests that there are distinct generational trends in this venture or adventure, perhaps it is time we looked at the motivations, ideas and realities of entrepreneurship as a shared generational experience.
So wrote the introduction to the April 26th Business of Aging Global Network Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) quarterly Meeting. Now in its 6th year, the network is an offshoot program of the Sheridan College Centre for Elder Research.
In collaboration with Renee Devereaux, Manager, Entrepreneurship and Changemaking at Sheridan College, we pulled together a panel of two millennial entrepreneurs – Dan Amponsah aka Kobi who started his Neck Couture business and, Kushi Kaur with her niched start-up KleanCase, a 3 in 1 pillow case for people with blemish prone skin. They were joined by a third panelist, an older adult entrepreneur Jill O”Donnell who started her business in 1981, newly named Spark Direct Health, a care giving portal for older adults.
Adding to the generational makeup of the panel, and Renee and I as moderators, the audience also represented an inter-generational group of people, many of whom have started a business or been self-employed. What Renee and I were keen to propose was that, regardless of age cohort, there were more similarities with the actual experience in the entrepreneurial venture or adventure, and there were likely more opportunities for shared interests and collaboration.
Positive support & the power of network connections – at any age
Several comments from the millennials represented here, resonated with me not only on a personal level, but that these were also comments strikingly similar to what others at ages from 21 to 71 have told me over the years through my entrepreneurial advisory work. For instance, Kobi said that one of his challenges was that of overcoming the mindset shift from pursuing traditional employment options to that of the entrepreneurial.
Kobi spoke of the pressures from the influence of parental values and the quest to find like- minded support. This reminded me of my parent’s first reaction when they questioned as to why I wanted to leave the security of the big company retail corporate world. In other client cases, the pressure has come from differing spousal/partner values, where not everyone has the same tolerance for risk. Candid feedback and support therefore, may not come from the usual suspects.
Positive support from a spouse and friends was a key factor for Jill O’Donnell when she began her entrepreneurial journey, over thirty years ago. I know that the power of network connections has always been central to her business success along the way, just as Kushi, who is just starting out, said that one of her early challenges is exactly that – creating connections with industry networks. This is absolutely the case for every client I have ever worked with over the years.
One of the most valuable responses arising from the question “what are your biggest challenges?” came again from Kushi Kaur. Paraphrasing here, she said that staying current, adapting to rapid change and the pressure to develop technology solutions was a constant challenge in today’s world. This truly is a shared generational issue and it is not going to go away. May the force be with you when you reflect on all that every day as you start and run a business.
Demystify entrepreneurship across generations
Considering the level of spirited discussion in the breakout groups, it became evident a number of myths were dispelled about how the everyday life of an entrepreneur is actually experienced at any age and stage of life. Motivations for starting a business may vary. Certainly in the case of Jill and Kushi, a key prompt for them was about identifying a need or a gap in the market; and from what I heard, it was more about their individual circumstance and attitude than their age that mattered.
While the group discussion that followed from the panel was quite engaging, I for one will say that I left wanting more. So we hope for a round two, as we never quite got to rolling out the dialogue on the varying language and manifestations of entrepreneurship, which have emerged over the last decade. It is in that truth that we can find opportunities to develop healthier resources to educate and support people across generations and to demystify the concept of entrepreneurship.