20-somethings create their own jobs

20-somethings create their own jobs

In today’s economy, you can’t just wait around for someone to hire you, say young entrepreneurs.

Five years ago, after graduating from New York University with a film degree and thousands of dollars in student loans, Scott Gerber moved back in with his parents on Staten Island. He then took out more loans to start a new-media and technology company, but he didn’t have a clear market in mind; the company went belly up in 2006.

“It made me feel demoralized and humiliated,” he says. “I wondered if this was really what post-collegiate life was supposed to be like. Did I do something wrong? The answers weren’t apparent to me.”

Still in debt, Mr. Gerber considered his career options. His mother kept encouraging him to get a “real” job, the kind that comes with an office and a boss. But, using the last $700 in his bank account, he decided to start another company instead.

With the new company, called Sizzle It, Mr. Gerber vowed to find a niche, reduce overhead and generally be more frugal. The company, which specializes in short promotional videos, was profitable the first year, he says.

Mr. Gerber, now 27, isn’t a millionaire, but he’s paid off his loans and doesn’t have to live with his parents (he rents an apartment in Hoboken, N.J.). And he thinks his experience can help other young people who face a daunting unemployment rate.

In October, Mr. Gerber started the Young Entrepreneur Council “to create a shift from a résumé-driven society to one where people create their own jobs,” he says. “The jobs are going to come from the entrepreneurial level.”

The council consists of 80-plus business owners across the country, ages 17 to 33. Members include Scott Becker, 23, co-founder of Invite Media, an advertising technology firm recently acquired by a Google unit; Lauren Berger, 26, founder of the Intern Queen, a site that connects college students with internships; Aaron Patzer, the 30-year-old who sold Mint.com to Intuit for $170 million; and Josh Weinstein, 24, who started CollegeOnly.com, a social networking site that is backed by a PayPal founder.

The council, which has applied for nonprofit status, serves as a help desk and mentoring hotline for individual entrepreneurs. People can also submit questions on subjects like marketing, publicity and technology, and each month a group of council members will answer 30 to 40 of them in business publications like The Wall Street Journal and American Express Open Forum, and on dozens of small business Web sites.

Council members assert that young people can start businesses even if they have little or no money or experience. But whether those start-ups last is another matter. Roughly half of all new businesses fail within the first five years, according to federal data. And the entrepreneurial life is notoriously filled with risks, stresses and sacrifices.

But then again, unemployment is 9.8 percent; Mr. Gerber’s in-box is flooded with e-mails from young people who have sent out hundreds of résumés for corporate jobs and come up empty. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 24.4 percent of 2010 graduates who applied for a job had one waiting for them after graduation (up from 19.7 percent in 2009). What do some people have to lose?

THE lesson may be that entrepreneurship can be a viable career path, not a renegade choice — especially since the promise of “Go to college, get good grades and then get a job,” isn’t working the way it once did. The new reality has forced a whole generation to redefine what a stable job is.

“I’ve seen all these people go to Wall Street, and those were supposed to be the good jobs. Now they are out of work,” says Windsor Hanger, 22, who turned down a marketing position at Bloomingdale’s to work on HerCampus.com, an online magazine. “It’s not a pure dichotomy anymore that entrepreneurship is risky and other jobs are safe, so why not do what I love?”