Are America's newest entrepreneurs ready?

Students have begun to accept the new economy and will build America's next companies.


Brian Snyder/Reuters/File
Graduating students waited for the start of Harvard University's commencement exercises last June in Cambridge, Mass. Evidence suggests that students are beginning to take the more challenging business environment in stride.

With traditional employment looking so bleak a common question is this: "Are you seeing more students interested in entrepreneurship given the depths of this recession?"

This is a good question because historically we have seen a small upswing in student interest in entrepreneurship when the economy and job market soften. But this has become a much deeper recession and a more worrisome long-term economic climate. How are students reacting this time?

When the bottom fell out of the economy, the initial reaction among my students at Belmont University was one of shock. This generation is one that has been protected from failure and insulated from risk. I tend to have graduating seniors in the class that I teach, so those not already in business did not know what to do next.

But over the next few months, I saw a transformation. My students began to accept the new state of the world and adjust their expectations. I began to believe that this generation is ready to follow their entrepreneurial spirit and help rebuild our economy.

The other day I received a piece of data about our program that affirmed my theory.

Many industries see interest

Each year we usually see about 15 to 20 new businesses started by our undergraduate students. Mind you, they do this in the midst of taking classes and often while also working part time. This year we have seen a tripling of new practicing student entrepreneurs.

We went from 18 new undergraduate student businesses last year to 54 this year. These students are coming from all across our campus from many different majors.

The businesses they are starting are in a variety of industries. As would be expected in Nashville, a good number are in the entertainment industry -- including audio production, video production, artist management, live performance and music promotion.

There are several related to the food industry, too, including a couple of different types of catering businesses, a manufacturer of food flavorings, one that makes barbecue rubs and sauces and a food co-op.

Students have set up online businesses that sell everything from golf clubs to auto parts to high-end makeup. There are businesses that sell such things as jewelry, lawn services, aprons and kitchen cabinets.

And some students have created businesses that provide a variety of services, including basketball training, online marketing, medical waste disposal and even credit restoration.

Now it is time to turn the newly minted "Entrepreneurial Generation" loose. It is time to help give them the capital they need by cutting taxes. We also need to provide the freedom they need to navigate a very challenging marketplace by clearing the path to starting and growing businesses by cutting regulatory red tape. The "Entrepreneurial Generation" is willing to meet the challenges in our economy. This news has certainly raised my spirits about our economic future.

(This post ran as my column in the Tennessean today).

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