By Nicki Gorny
Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With the barriers to entry significantly lower than in years past, many millenials are taking the leap into entrepreneurship. For women in business like 24 year old Emily Cummins who launched her own Strategic Planning and Development Company, business is only heading up! Cummins coaches a growing network of clients on how to promote themselves digitally through website development, social media strategy and more. Without major overhead costs, like office rental, Cummins said she is turning a profit even as her company continues to take shape.
Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
Chris Cano can remember the day his father brought home the family’s first personal computer.
Cano, now 28, can peg the arrival of that computer as an experience that changed his life. It sparked a long-lasting interest that paid off years later, when he ran a profitable website about the then-new iPhone. And he said he sees its influence again, less directly, in the Gainesville-based startup, BikeCompost, that he launched in 2011.
He figures his experience is in line with many in his generation, who came of age as the internet unlocked increasing opportunities.
“We have this very unique experience of being born into a world with no computers,” he said, guessing that many millennials didn’t interact with a computer until they were 7 or 8 years old. “We know what it’s like up grow up without computers, and to see the whole world change.”
As millennials like Cano reach their 20s and early 30s, their technology-influenced upbringings are shaping the types of business they’re launching as entrepreneurs, according to those who work with small businesses in Marion and Alachua counties.
While Peter Rivera, of the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, and Ryan Lilly, of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, say they have not seen more or less entrepreneurship among millennials than among other generations, they point to ways that technology is changing the game for startups — and how the generation characterized by it is playing a role.
“Technology exists that didn’t exist 50 years ago, and that makes it easier for someone in the millennial generation to start a business,” Lilly said, using app and software development companies as examples. “These are business models that didn’t exist 50 years ago, that someone with very little resources — for example, a millennial — can start on their own in a short time period without a lot of capital.”
Even in the non-tech startups that Rivera has seen millennials launch through the Small Business Development Center’s seven-county area, he said he sees the effects of millennials’ upbringings on their businesses.
“(Millennials) have grown up with technology at their fingertips,” he said, “so they don’t know geographic boundaries.”
And while Lilly and Rivera both noted that 20-somethings continue to be more the exception than the rule in the world of entrepreneurship, several of the millennials behind startups in the Ocala and Gainesville areas credited factors that have been working in favor of young entrepreneurs for decades. Among these are energy, enthusiasm and the ability to take a financial risk.
The latter especially influenced Lindsey Tropf, 30, of Immersed Games, based in Gainesville. Her and her husband’s bank account was whittled down to $164 by the time they deposited the first check they earned through the educational video game startup.
“If you fail, you have more time to catch up,” she reasoned of millennial entrepreneurs. “I think it helps when you have very little to risk.”
Forging new business models
Emily Cummins doesn’t have an office.
Her clients are instead likely to find her at a local coffee shop, or sometimes at their own offices — or, as is often the case, behind the screen of a computer.
That is where much of her focus is through her Emily B. Cummins Strategic Planning and Development Co., which the 24-year-old Ocalan launched in January after moving back to the area from a two-year stint as associate director of communications and branding for a church in Las Vegas. Through her company, Cummins coaches a growing network of clients on how to promote themselves digitally through website development, social media strategy and more. She caters primarily to churches and female entrepreneurs so far, she said, identifying each client’s individualized goal and devising a digital strategy to meet it.
Maybe an hour-long tutorial on best practices for Twitter might suit one client, she said, while another might sign on for months of hand-in-hand social media training.
Without major overhead costs, like office rental, Cummins said she is turning a profit even as her company continues to take shape. Her business model puts her in line with the sort of low-capital startups that Lilly said entrepreneurs, including millennials, are finding possible today through technology that previous generations of young entrepreneurs could not explore.
Cummins’ company is among several Ocala- and Gainesville-based startups that are using technology to forge new business models. At the Ocala-based That’s How It’s Done Creative Agency, for example, Alex Moy draws on a similar model.
Moy, an 18-year-old who this year will finish his home-schooled education, launched That’s How It’s Done as a production company in 2014. He said that a representative from the Power Plant, a business incubator through Ocala/Marion County’s CEP, reached out to him about starting a business after connecting with him at the inaugural Silver Springs Film Festival. Moy, a filmmaker, screened his first short film there.
He said it took a while to identify the direction he wanted to take That’s How It’s Done, and said his business plan has continued to develop since he and his team have moved to a new office in a business park in southeast Ocala.
Now, they are expanding ThatsHowItsDone Productions into a creative agency. That means that in addition to producing original videos for their corporate clients, Moy and his team also have a hand in promoting, branding and marketing them on a variety of digital and social media platforms.
Take the company’s weekly video series for Ocala Gran Prix, a local go-kart track, as an example.
Moy, who is director of production on a team that now includes his parents, said the goal is creative videos that will have traction on social media. They hit the mark with “Real Life Mario Kart.” The video-game-esque effects Moy added to racetrack footage made for more than 10,000 views online — far overreaching the 3,500 or so “likes” that Grand Prix’s Facebook page had at the time.
“We want all of our content to stand out,” Moy said.
Breaking down geographic boundaries
Jaron Jones, 29, and Brandon Telg, 26, launched and operate Self Narrate in Gainesville, where the pair connected as graduate students at the University of Florida. But their reach extends far beyond Central Florida these days, with an audience that stretches as far as Russia and China and with collaborators who describe their lives in Sudan, Venezuela and more.
The crux of the Self Narrate lies in encouraging people to share their personal stories, an empowering concept that Jones and Telg grew to love after trying it themselves through a class assignment in 2013. They have since turned that idea into a business, pitching the model and its benefits through corporate workshops and, now, a book.
But the stories themselves key to Self Narrate. Jones, Telg and their team share them, recorded through podcasts and videos, through iTunes, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and more.
“With all those forms of digital content, it allows us to advertise to audiences all over, even audiences we don’t expect,” Jones said.
That is the sort of global reach that Rivera, of the Small Business Development Center, said is characteristic of millennial-run businesses. Other business owners, like Cummins and Moy, find that phone calls, emails and video conferencing enable collaboration with clients far beyond their home turfs — in California and Tennessee for Cummins and in New York for Moy.
Cano, of BikeCompost, similarly says he considers himself a resource for other cities that want to replicate Gainesville’s bike-powered network of local composting.
And in Ocala, Aldon Peoples, 26, likewise finds that the Internet is closing distances.
With a long-standing dream of running his own clothing line, and with a graphic design degree from Rasmussen College, Peoples launched Heartbreak Society Clothing Co. in 2012. The streetwear company is available online currently, although Peoples said he has arranged to sell pieces at the local mall, featured at the store Double T, in the past. He has dreams of a Los Angeles flagship once the company gets off the ground.
For Peoples, who runs the company with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen, 27 (North Marion High School Class of 2006), social media is key in building a cross-country network. Peoples uses social media to connect with photographers in Los Angeles or stores in New York, for example. He said he draws on his own social media connections for feedback on his designs. He might post a potential design on Facebook, for example, and gauge the reaction before moving ahead.
“I can find anything I know based on social media,” Peoples said.
Taking advantage of their circumstances
Brittany Bishop spent three years as an accountant before she decided that career path just wasn’t the right fit for her. So she decided to take a risk: She launched launched Brittany Bishop Photography this year, transitioning a long-standing hobby into a career.
“I never thought I would be an entrepreneur,” said Bishop, who, unlike some Gainesville- and Ocala-based entrepreneurs, said she had had very little exposure to the idea. She had never previously relied on a freelance paycheck, for example, or watched a family member give entrepreneurship a shot.
But for Bishop, a 25-year-old who is married without children, the timing made sense. Had she waited longer, or had she waited until she had a child to worry about when gauging the financial stability of a startup, she guessed she would have felt stuck in the career path she had already started.
“I’m glad I figured out that I wanted to change my career path at this point,” she said, “rather than 10 years from now. … I feel like that would be more of a risk.”
Bishop isn’t alone among local entrepreneurs who said their circumstances as 20-somethings helped make entrepreneurship a viable option. Often financially responsible only to themselves or perhaps a spouse, they are able to make ends meet by cashing in savings or working part- or full-time jobs as their businesses get off the ground.
Cano and Cummins also said they benefited from graduating college without the burden of student loans, which helped them enter entrepreneurship with some degree of financial stability.
Miles Clark, the 32-year-old chief strategy officer of Ivy Creative Labs in Gainesville, said it helped that he is not trying to support children on a startup paycheck.
“We don’t have the same degree of responsibility to families that we may have in the future,” he said of the primarily millennial team at Ivy Creative Labs, which continues to develop and market a device that deodorizes and disinfects items without water, detergents or chemicals.
That is important when that paycheck is sometimes years in the making.
Tropf’s team at Immersed Games did not receive a salary for a year. Team members at Ivy Creative Labs similarly did not pay themselves for a year and a half.
And while financial risk proves a weighty consideration, Clark also was among those who suggested that his energy level as a millennial fits well with the demands of a startup.
“It takes a whole lot of energy to run a company, especially when there’s not income,” Clark said. “I’m not sure that later on in life, I’m going to have the same sort of energy that I have now.”
For Telg and Jones, a startup means working two full-time jobs simultaneously. Each holds a position at UF, so for Telg, who also has a young daughter, that sometimes means picking up Self Narrate after her 8 p.m. bedtime. Neither said they thought this level or energy or commitment is unique to millennials, but they did credit it a major motivator in their work.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you get to focus on things you find meaningful,” Telg said. “I’ve really enjoyed stepping into that role.”