Are You Ready for Generation Z Entrepreneurs? I am.

Karl R. LaPan, President and CEO of The NIIC

There is no shortage of press about Millennials in the workplace, but I think it’s time we shift our focus on the most promising next generation of entrepreneurs. Generation Z or the iGeneration – will be the first of many digital natives. While this group is the successor generation to millennials, there are not precise dates on when this generation begins and ends; however, it is generally understood to include individuals born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. This generation really encourages me. They are entrepreneurial, realistic and collaborative.

While millennials are the most entrepreneurial exposed and educated generation, Generation Z overwhelmingly want to be entrepreneurs. Unlike their millennial counterparts who are still living at home and paying back (or trying to figure out how not to courtesy of our former Federal Government administration) over a $1.3 trillion in student debt, recent surveys project a significant # of Gen Zers (in one survey, 61 percent of high school students and 43 percent of college students) would rather be an entrepreneur instead of an employee when they graduate college. This is exciting, inspirational and motivational.

What does this mean for our future economy? No longer will the skilled labor jobs of generations past be a viable option. Experts believe the workplace will require advanced degrees and a specific set of skills necessary for success. In fact, it’s estimated that by the year 2020, more than three-quarters of jobs will require a post-secondary credential. In other words, a master’s degree will be the new bachelor’s degree. While nearly 6 out of 10 open jobs in the US don’t require this level of educational readiness today, we should not dumb down our educational achievement aspirations merely because a low bar of success is achievable.

For nearly 9 years, the NIIC has provided an immersive and experiential opportunity for aspiring students to take their dream and fulfill it. Through the generosity of several local foundations (Lincoln and Wilson) and a community bank (iAB Financial Bank), the NIIC Student Venture Lab provides the space, funding and coaching to give high school and college students the opportunity to be their own boss and to pursue their business idea. To date, over 70 students have been funded in various phases of exploration of their idea and business concept. If you know someone young, smart and self-directed who might be a great fit, The NIIC is accepting applications for a limited number of spots in the program, so please contact Gary Fry at the NIIC for more information.

Several weeks ago I gave a talk for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Connect and Collaborate event in Fort Wayne on the technological forces disrupting our targeted industries. I shared how advanced technologies and automation are transforming five our region’s targeted industries. And it’s not a phenomenon of the future—it’s happening in the here and now. Take for example the use of drones, robots and artificial intelligence in the warehousing, logistics and automotive industries.

This begs a fundamental question – what can we do for Generation Z prepare for an uncertain future of the next two decades? I believe the onus rests on educators, elected officials, employers and the business community at large to ensure the next generation of entrepreneurs founders are prepared and engaged. Entrepreneurship is a dot connector. An entrepreneurial mindset is valuable whether you start your own business or work for someone else. The soft skills of entrepreneurship — pattern recognition, intellectual curiosity, grit, opportunity scouting, problem solving and teamwork are always in high demand.

This more relational generation is less focused on one task — they jump easily from one thing or idea to another. Blame the advent of smartphones on this inattention. They are used to interacting with screens and buttons. They play with multiple devices online all the time. Therefore, their entrepreneurial thinking is very much tied to the Web. As entrepreneurs, they tend to be highly collaborative, inclusive and socially liberal. That’s why concepts such as crowdsourcing and open platform education are encouraged and embraced in attempt to solve problems.

A survey from North­eastern Uni­ver­sity supports these observations. According to the national survey, mem­bers of “Gen­er­a­tion Z are highly self-directed, demon­strated by a strong desire to work for them­selves, study entre­pre­neur­ship, and design their own pro­grams of study in college.”

What’s one thing you can do today to support this overshadowed generation (Today, they are 7 years old to 22 years old) and pipeline of aspiring entrepreneurs? Move over millennials and make way for this wave of emerging entrepreneurs.


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