By Gary Haber
York Daily Record, Pa.
With a stack of index cards in one hand and her PowerPoint presentation on the screen, Mikaila Barba glided into her pitch about the infants’ clothing business she wants to start one day.
Barba’s audience was a panel of judges at York College. The presentation was the culmination of a nine-week program for high school students interested in starting their own business. The course is run by York College’s entrepreneurship program and the York County Alliance for Learning, which is affiliated with the York County Economic Alliance.
Barba, a senior at South Western High School who’ll start at West Chester University in the fall, smoothly explained how her business,
Clementine, would differ from other online baby clothing retailers. The 17-year-old shared with the judges her five-year strategy that calls for starting online, adding a brick-and-mortar store and branching into clothing for older children.
Barba’s interest in business doesn’t surprise her father, Mike Barba.
At age five or six, Mikaila was swaddling rocks in newspaper and trying to sell them to neighborhood kids as “babies.”
“She’s always been industrious, the kind of kid who’s super self-governing,” Barba said.
Mikaila was the overall winner of the pitch competition. She’s part of a small but passionate group of young people who are preparing themselves to one day launch their own business.
Caleb Robertson has already taken that step.
At 23, Robertson, a York College senior, runs ArtC Creative with his fiancee Kelsey Raudensky. The company makes and sells refinished lighting fixtures and York-themed apparel at 56 Urban Provisions in Royal Square. The business grossed about $25,000 last year and Robertson is looking to grow the graphic design side of the company. He’s already designed corporate logos for some York County businesses.
Robertson plans to run the business full-time after he graduates. He sees having a company as an outlet for expressing his creative side while leaving him the flexibility to also raise a family one day.
“I think everybody has something they could do for themselves, some marketable skill,” Robertson said. “It’s a matter of going after it.”
If you talk to people who pay attention to entrepreneurship, they’ll tell you that more people dream of starting a business than actually do it.
Graduates saddled with college debt may not be able to afford to start a business. It can be tough even for established businesses to find financing. And many parents might think it too risky for their children to start a business fresh out of college, said Jay Azriel, who runs the entrepreneurship major at York County.
“Parents are always concerned ‘Will my child be able to get a job?'” said Azriel, an associate professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at York College’s Graham School of Business.
Figures from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation show fewer young people are taking the entrepreneurial plunge. Among people age 20 to 34, just 1.8 people per 1,000 started a business within the previous month in 2013, according to a foundation report. That was down from 2.3 per thousand in 2012 and the smallest percentage since at least 1996, according to the foundation’s latest Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, published in April 2014.
Many young people graduating college might see the safer path as applying to law school or getting a job in finance or with a consulting firm, said Chris Kontes, a senior at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
But Kontes, 22, who will graduate in May with a major in government and a minor in economics, decided to take his career in a different direction.
Kontes, who is from Stamford, Conn., has always been interested in business. At 15, he had a job detailing cars. His junior year of college, Kontes started an Internet business that matched car shoppers with cars that suited their needs. The business didn’t turn a profit but “I learned a lot about business,” Kontes said.
Kontes applied for and was accepted into a program called Venture for America. The program places recent college graduates with start-up companies for a two-year fellowship. The organization is in more than a dozen cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia.
The jobs pay $38,000 a year, far less than these smart, motivated grads could make on Wall Street. But the trade-off is participants get the hands-on experience that will help them to launch a business of their own.
They get lots of networking opportunities and career advice and what Mike Tarullo, Venture for America’s senior vice president of corporate development, called “a structured path” for starting a business.
About a quarter of the people in Venture for America’s first graduating class have gone on to launch their own company, Tarullo said.
Zarah Brooks is one York-area college graduate who took a chance and started her own business.
Brooks opened Indigo Bleu, a women’s clothing boutique, on West Philadelphia Street in downtown York in 2014, just a few months after graduating from York College with a degree in public relations.
Even as a child, Brooks, now 23, was always interested in clothes. She remembers staging fashion shows for her parents when she was a little girl.
Her parents were “really supportive” when Brooks said he wanted to open a boutique. And the business, which will celebrate its first anniversary in July, is turning a profit, Brooks said. She plans to launch an online retail site next month and wants to open a second brick-and-mortar location, eventually.
“Age doesn’t matter,” she said. “If you want to do something, make it happen.”
That’s something Barba, the South Western High School senior, hopes to do one day.
While Barba will be going to college in the fall to study nursing, she sees having a business as something she can juggle with a nursing career.
“I like the idea of owning something and being a contributing member of society,” she said.
Who’s starting new businesses?
According to a report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, here’s a breakdown, by age, of people who started a new business in 2013:
Age 20-34: 22.7 percent
Age 35-44: 24.0 percent
Age 45-54: 30.0 percent
Age 55-64: 23.4 percent
Source: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation