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Exploradio brings you captivating stories about science worth discovering and examines powerful questions worth answering.

With Credit Tight, Millennial Entrepreneurs Travel a Different Path

Photo of CaseMD team
Kellie Nock
From left to right: Justin Gleason, Sam Graska, Ariella Yager

New business creation in Ohio is at historic lows, according to a recent Kauffman Foundation study. With tight credit and increasing student debt, it’s especially hard for millennials to start a business. But in the next installment of Exploradio’s entrepreneurship series, WKSU intern Kellie Nock reports, some millennials are creating new opportunities.

Creating an original idea
Young people are rarely without a phone. So, some millennial entrepreneurs decided there's no better way to make sure you have life-saving medication on-hand than to attach it to your phone.

That was the inspiration for the founders of Case.MD, a phone case that holds vital medicines.

Founders Ariella Yager, Sam Graska and Justin Gleason started developing the idea three years ago when they were undergrads at Kent State. Graska, the CEO of the company, has asthma, so he understood the needs of people who require emergency medicine. This got him thinking.

“I did some research, and I was like, ‘Wow, like this is actually a really big problem," says Graska. "People are not carrying their medicine, they’re not keeping it on them, they’re not taking it.”

Graska teamed up with Yager, who studied entrepreneurship, and Gleason, an architecture major, to form the “Case.MD” team. Gleason, who came up with the design, says the first thing to do was to make a 3D phone case for early prototypes.

“And then from there, editing it to fit the sizes and dimensions of an auto-injector,” Gleason says.

Now that they’ve graduated, the team is working on getting patents and tackling FDA approval.

The advantage of being a student-entrepreneur
Ariella Yager has since graduated. She says the best time for the team was, in fact, in college, when their personal networks were growing, and when they had access to pitch competitions and other on-campus resources.

“You’re opened up to so many more opportunities. Like, almost every single one of these pitches are student-only. If I was graduated I couldn’t do these, I couldn’t get that free funding,” says Yager.

Even though millennials are known for multitasking, Justin Gleason, now a grad student, says pinning down business partners after graduation has been a little harder.

“If somebody needs something from you it’s like, ‘Do I stop working and do that? Can I do that on company time?’ It’s definitely a bigger disadvantage to start after school,” says Gleason.

The lowest rate of all
Overall, business creation in the U.S. is down, but millennials have the lowest start-up rate ever, according to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2015 “State of Entrepreneurship”report.

Along with student loans and daily debt, funding is another challenge for recent grads.

Most campuses have business development centers geared toward helping both current students and grads. For the Case.MD team, Kent State’s LaunchNet provided them the mentorship. LaunchNet’s Tabitha Martin says that gaining capital when you first start is a universal problem, not just a millennial problem.

“As an entrepreneur, no matter where you are in your life, that’s always a big concern, and always something that you’re struggling against.”

It's not all about the money
Money may not be the only problem for millennials hoping to start a business. The University of Baltimore’s Ting Zhang contributed to the Kauffman report on entrepreneurship and age.

She says that because of more “hands-on” and “helicopter” parenting millennials are more protected, which she says may not be so good for business creation.  

“The unfortunate side, would be they, as a result, have less of their independence ... compared to their ‘Gen X’ parents,” says Zhang.

She says that while millennials may face tough financial challenges when launching a business, they are better than older entrepreneurs in finding 21st Century solutions.

“But millennials also grow up as a digital and globalized generation so they are very accustomed to all kinds of change. All those are great assets to our new economy,” Zhang says. 

Despite the data, the Case.MD team is optimistic about their future plans for the company. Sam Graska, is now a grad student. He says the team's next steps are "fundraising, fundraising, fundraising, waiting on the patents and just seeing how big, and how far it can go."

Like entrepreneurs of any age – they say that the key ingredient is unstoppable drive.

Kellie Nock is freelance journalist who has previously interned with WKSU. As an intern, her focus of stories were centered around entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a Bachelor's degree in journalism. As a student, she wrote for various student media and hosted radio shows through the university's radio station.