Today’s 25-year-olds were 9 when Netscape went public. They were starting middle school when Google (GOOG) was founded; they watched the tech bubble burst before they went to their senior proms; and some were dropping calls on iPhones before buying their first legal drinks. Many of the jobs they thought they’d get disappeared just as they were finishing college.
So maybe it’s not surprising that millennials are embracing entrepreneurship, albeit at lower rates than previous generations. The 25 companies run by founders no older than 25 in our 2011 roundup of America’s best young entrepreneurs are wired, global, and resilient, because the economy demands it.
A trio of North Carolina State University students left school to run Business Empire Consulting, an online marketing consultancy started in 2009 that now employs 27 people. “We simply knew very talented young individuals whose voice would not be heard in corporate America,” explains co-founder Bryan Young, 25, who bootstrapped the business and expects $5 million in revenue this year. It’s his fifth company.
For many, doing business overseas is the norm. Lesley Silverthorn, a 25-year-old, Stanford-educated engineer spurned a career designing high-end electronics for the U.S. market to build solar-powered lamps and cell phone chargers for people in developing countries living off the power grid. The design shop she co-founded with Bryan Duggan, Angaza Design, shipped its first products to customers in Afghanistan, India, and Uganda this summer. “It’s a little bit different because you’re operating on higher volume, lower margins than you would if you were selling to the U.S.,” says Silverthorn. “But it’s an incredibly large market opportunity.”
Young entrepreneurs are also taking on social and environmental challenges their generation is inheriting in the U.S. ReGreen Corp. performs energy audits for businesses and installs technologies that help clients reduce their power and water bills. The company, started by a trio from Los Angeles, employs 110 people and expects $15 million in revenue this year.
Public and private institutions are pushing startup creation among recent grads to help revive the stalled economy. The White House Business Council has met twice with groups of young company founders this year as part of the Startup America Partnership. That initiative, launched in January at the White House, is among several attempts to foster more successful new businesses nationwide. Others include a slew of mentoring programs and such groups as the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which brings entrepreneurship education into inner-city classrooms.
Another nonprofit, called Our Time, is trying to rally shoppers around companies founded by the under-30 set to highlight the economic and political might of the millennial generation. Unemployment is highest for people under 30, and Our Time’s goal is to encourage consumers to “buy young” to boost companies run by young entrepreneurs and create jobs for young people.
It’s an appealing thought for a generation that has come of age in an economy in need of transformation. For a sample of the most promising ventures run by people age 25 and under in the U.S., take a look at the profiles in our slide show and then vote for the one you think is most promising.