Small businesses are the real job creators of our economy spurred by entrepreneurs willing to leave the normalcy of a 9-to-5 job to solve a problem or fill a need. However, Americans are increasingly avoiding taking the plunge because of financial concerns and millennial entrepreneurs are especially falling behind.
Gallup recently asked Americans if they’ve considered starting a business and found that 25 percent of Americans who’ve thought about it decided against starting a business. Of seven reasons why, three main barriers emerged: the security of a steady income (84%), lack of personal savings to start a business (68%), and odds of success being low (66 percent). In addition, just shy of half indicated they have an idea but don’t know where to star,t and another 47 percent worry that running a business would upset their work-life balance.
According to Gallup, these barriers are not insurmountable. Policymakers and the private sector can direct programs and funding to stimulating entrepreneurship by addressing the barriers of access to capital and knowledge. We tend to be dubious about government funding, believing that the market is always the best determiner of where money goes.
But what Gallup suggests is meaningful:
· Increasing access to early-stage startup funding — … Easier access to early-stage funding from seed accelerators, government grants, crowdfunding or angel investors can greatly expedite the process of starting a business for prospective entrepreneurs.
· Providing comprehensive support to those who want to start a business — … To increase the startup rate, it's imperative to provide potential entrepreneurs access to information about launching a company, running a business, finding mentors and advisers, and procuring space to set up shop and other resources.
· Identifying those who show entrepreneurial aptitude from a young age — Stage a calculated effort to find young high-potential entrepreneurs and engage them… The sooner you can find and educate naturally talented business builders, the earlier you can address the issues that prospective entrepreneurs claim as barriers to starting a business.
This last recommendation is interesting when you consider that Millennials are such an entrepreneurial generation yet, according to new research, we are starting businesses at notably lower rates than in the recent past.
According to the 2015 state of entrepreneurship report from the leading entrepreneurship nonprofit Kauffman Foundation, start-up rates among Americans ages 20 to 34 has fallen to 23 percent in 2013 after peaking at 35 percent in 1996.
If we remember, the popularity of the internet (known as the Information Superhighway) in the mid-90s spurned highly valued internet businesses started by enterprising young people. Unfortunately, without much substance or sales, the .com boom went bust.
Two decades later, technology again is driving young people to innovate in traditional industries delivering more customized options and services to meet our daily needs. From on-demand flowers to ride-sharing, we’re experiencing a renaissance in technology-driven businesses that move beyond just a website.
However, the Kauffman reports suggests if it weren’t for the millstone of student loan debt tied around our necks, Millennial entrepreneurship could be even stronger.
"Saddled with student loan debt, millennials can't afford to be entrepreneurs," according to 2015 state of entrepreneurship report from the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to studying entrepreneurship.
In addition to the annual summary, Kauffman's monthly readings on entrepreneurial activity show a decline among millennials. Young adults launched about 40,000 fewer new businesses a month in 2013 compared to 1996.
The Kauffman report is among a growing pool of sometimes conflicting data about the future of millennials and start-up activity. While Silicon Valley is hot with start-ups, battling it out for top talent, Kauffman's report offers some skepticism about young adults and their impact on business creation.
The relationship between debt and entrepreneurship is "complicated," says Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at Kauffman. "On the one hand it makes sense that if you are coming out of college or grad school with a load of student debt, starting a company is not among your most viable priorities," Stangler said. "On the other hand, we didn't expect hoards of 22-year-olds to start companies. They do get to more entrepreneurial-inclined ages [late 30s and early 40s] they will have better control of their finances."
Other experts say the long-term impact of student debt on start-up creation remains to be seen.
Although the relationship between student loan debt and entrepreneurship may not be cut and dried, it is plausible. While we can’t attribute the slowdown in millennial entrepreneurship entirely to our debt burden, when we consider the Gallup findings that the number one barrier that drives Americans away from taking the plunge is the security of a paycheck, we can see how that $500 monthly student loan payment is a motivating factor for staying on a job rather than going for months or longer without taking an income from a new business.
This is a great opportunity for the private and public sector to remove those barriers. Lawmakers and bureaucrats ought to remove the regulations that make starting businesses or growing businesses so difficult. We should also be clear that we believe in innovation, even if this means unwelcome competition for established enterprises. As we’ve seen with the fight against Uber and Lyft, sending police officers on Uber stings to arrest drivers and impound their cars or charging them 4-figure fines, is a deterrent to anyone thinking about getting into a business.
Private sector for-profits, nonprofits, and individuals can invest in training programs, crowd-funding, and other avenues where entrepreneurs can secure the capital and knowledge they need to turn their ideas into a reality.
In an ideal world, we would see the unemployment rate drop to a couple of percentage points and the labor force participation rate increase to the point where all capable adults are working whether for a business or in their own enterprises. The social problems of hunger, homelessness, lack of healthcare, and more could be alleviated and the economy remaining the number one in the world.
We're far from there yet but the right policies that incentivize entrepreneurs can get us to this place.