Millennial Entrepreneurs Making A Go Of It

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.

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