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Farewell, Bosses: A Wave Of Young Entrepreneurs

Posted: December 14, 2012

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Burdened by the weak economy, more and more millennials — ages 18 to 34 — are becoming their own bosses. A study shows that more than half of them want to start a business or already have.

To save money, 30-year-old Alisha Mustafa runs her small pie-making business out of the kitchen of another restaurant.

To save money, 30-year-old Alisha Mustafa runs her small pie-making business out of the kitchen of another restaurant.

Thirty-year-old Alisha Mustafa spent years working at low-paying restaurant jobs. The unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent in her hometown of Bloomington, Ind.

"I've worked it all in this town," she says. "I've worked for so many restaurants, and last year was my year from hell in the industry."

So, she quit and started her own business. Now, she spends most days baking treats like gluten-free strawberry mango pie for her business, Mustafa Pie Co.

More young people like Mustafa are fighting the slow job market by doing exactly what she did: building something of their own. According to a survey from last year, 54 percent of the nation's millennials — ages 18 to 34 — want to start a business or already have.

Don Kuratko, the chairman of entrepreneurship at Indiana University, says that kind of enthusiasm is common when the economy dips and career track jobs dry up. But, the current surge of entrepreneurship seems to be attracting a new kind of business, he says. It's called the lean startup.

"It's become very popular," Kuratko says. "It talks about starting with the very micro-enterprise idea and moving quickly into your market and testing it and getting customers right away, and trying to generate some revenue and use that revenue to grow on that."

In Columbus, Ind., Steve Riche started his own specialized Web design firm. He says he hated his human resources job at a big auto parts manufacturer and decided to work out of his house instead. His desk is now covered in action figures, and miniature superhero models spill out of his drawer.

"Since leaving my respectable day job, I've kind of embraced my inner child again," Riche says.

He works mostly from his couch, which he says is crucial to his business plan.

"We've been able to run the business and not have any kind of loan hanging over our head with the idea that if things don't pan out, then OK, we'll walk away scot-free and find jobs elsewhere and not be indebted to anyone," he says.

Even if Riche ever did decide to work outside a living room, getting a business loan would be tough. According to a recent Federal Reserve report, small businesses are facing some of the strictest loan requirements in almost two decades.

Riche seems to be doing just fine for now. His company currently has major contracts with several area banks and the city's hospital.

Amber Fischvogt, director of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, helped Riche's business grow from a client base of few friends into an established firm. She says the idea of starting a couch-based business has exploded because it's easy to find the resources.

"If you look at barriers to entry maybe 20 years ago and think about computers, technology, access to resources and then you look at it today — the barriers are dropped tremendously," Fischvogt says.

But before you start calling this uptick in millennial entrepreneurship an economic victory, consider that it's still very risky to start a business from scratch. Studies show that about 80 percent of all startups fail within the first few years.

Now, add that sobering statistic to the findings of a University of Tennessee study. The No. 1 reason new businesses fall short? Inexperience.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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