Generation Z, individuals currently between the ages of 16 and 24, may become the most entrepreneurial generation the world has ever seen.
The reasons for that involve sweeping cultural and sociological trends. The key enablers of those next-gen founders will be modern digital technologies: Social networks that make reaching large audiences possible; knowledge platforms that teach valuable business skills; and the cloud, which makes it possible to build solutions quickly, flexibly and cost-effectively.
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These technologies allow young people to think freely, dream big and achieve what was almost unimaginable to the generations before them.
“Technological barriers pretty much don’t exist anymore,” said Itai Matalon, CEO and co-founder of UpNext in an early September virtual roundtable. An Israel-based startup that supports “teenpreneurship” around the globe, UpNext is a participant in Oracle for Startups.
“Anyone could open an online store in a matter of hours, launch an app or website in a matter of weeks” he said, “and these websites or apps or products could serve millions and have all the components to become scalable businesses.”
These trends are so profound that we’re already seeing many Zoomers, as this generation is often called, starting their entrepreneurial journeys before they can get their driver’s licenses. Oracle for Startups, which I lead, aims to support those bright young minds by partnering with UpNext and other Gen Z founders.
Talking tech with teenpreneurs
In the September virtual roundtable hosted by Oracle for Startups, I spoke to seven Gen Z founders about why their generation feels the call of entrepreneurship.
First, I shared some numbers that seem to illustrate that point: A Nielsen study cites 54 percent of Zoomers saying they want to start their own company, and a Gallup poll found 42 percent of students hoped to do the same.
My quick explanation for those surveys was that Gen Z is the first generation raised as digital natives—they grew up in a world of smartphones, social media, e-commerce and on-demand services.
Zoomers instinctively understand they can create a product and turn it into a business by tapping the talents of a small group of dedicated peers, and without massive capital investment.
Matalon also noted young people don’t worry about risking their financial stability by acting on entrepreneurship opportunities.
So, combine the opportunities created by cloud and digital communities with the inherent risk-taking of young people, and you have the ingredients for a new kind of entrepreneurial spirit—one set to transform the business landscape.
But in talking to the seven teenpreneurs, I realized there’s more to the story.
The workplace looks different to Gen Z
What’s driving this new generation of founders isn’t just what they have been empowered to do, but what they see as the challenges ahead of them—and often the shortcomings in how they’re prepared to face them.
Jenk Oz, once dubbed Britain’s Youngest CEO, has an understanding of the career landscape that’s astonishing for someone his age. A seasoned entrepreneur at the ripe age of 16, Oz runs Thred Media, a publisher of content for young people, which gives him unique insights into the forces encouraging Zoomers to take their futures into their own hands.
“The job landscape has effectively flipped completely upside down in the last five, 10 years,” Oz told the panel, but school syllabuses haven’t changed much in that time.
While schools are good at identifying academic or athletic talent, they’re not so good at supporting innovators, he said, adding that budding entrepreneurs are left trying to execute ideas in isolation.
“We’ve been trained like the generations before us, but the economic landscape and employment landscape is very different from the generations before us,” he said.
More than dollars
Our panelists also highlighted another factor making teenagers eager to start companies: Gen Z appears less motivated by financial success. They care deeply about the social impact of what they do, and see tech as a force for good. Their entrepreneurship is driven by ambitions to improve the world.
“I want to make a difference before I want to make money,” said Aryaansh Rathore, the 16-year-old founder of Bread, a startup in Dubai that’s reimagining banking for Gen Z.
Up-and-coming leaders like Oz and Rathore are energetic, highly connected and full of ideas. The UpNext mission is to introduce millions like them to entrepreneurship and nurture communities through which they support each other.
Those communities will empower more teenpreneurs like Reese Strickland, CEO of TraceBrace, a startup that’s created a safety bracelet to help women protect themselves.
TraceBrace was born in a high school entrepreneurship class. After months of development, the team won $10,000 in a competition, catching the attention of UpNext, which reached out and featured the company on a YouTube podcast.
“We had never reflected on us being entrepreneurs until then,” said the 17-year-old from Austin, Texas.
This generation is not waiting for us to give them the skills they need to thrive in the future economy—they’re leveraging the great technological advances of the last decade to do it themselves. Now we just need to support them.
Jason Williamson is the global head and vice president of Oracle for Startups and Oracle for Research.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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