When the coronavirus pandemic shut down my middle school, I found myself stuck at home with nothing but my computer as company. Luckily, as a 14-year old STEM aficionado and introvert, this was all I needed. I found the large amounts of time on my hands as the perfect opportunity to work towards my goal of working to close the gender gap in STEM. This was a topic that I had personally struggled with throughout my own life, and I wanted to make a difference to other girls.
At the time, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur . . . After all, I barely knew what that even meant. I coded our website GirlsWhoSTEAM, started our first programs, and crossed my fingers that this would reach a few people. In return, I received an overwhelming response.
With more than 2,000+ participants in our online workshops, one of our signature events has been our pitch competition. The idea behind it is relatively simple . . . teens would submit their plans for a startup addressing issues that they were passionate about. All will then have the opportunity to be graded by a cohort of judges, who will then award the top three winners with prizes and recognition. All participants will leave with custom feedback and an idea for a potential business plan. Submissions ranged from the idea of starting a bilingual children’s book business to creating a community that provided resources for mothers. Working with these budding entrepreneurs as a teen founder, I have established a unique view on GenZ and the future of entrepreneurship.
In the short time from 1997 to the present, Generation Z has been able to establish themselves as a unique cohort. Dubbed “millenials on steroids,” they have been characterized by being incredibly aware of their environment. However, this group is more powerful than you would think. There are more than 69 million members of GenZ, exceeding millennials by more than 3 million.
This group of teenagers have several quirks, which have been twisted into comical and sometimes negative stereotypes. As a teenager and member of GenZ, I know that we should be first and foremost defined by how we believe that we have the power to create change. Movements like Black Lives Matter, gun control, LGBTQ rights, and others have transformed us from children into advocates, reformists, and leaders. Activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai have mobilized our generation and inspired us to make a change. So what does this mean for the future of entrepreneurship?
Genz is no stranger to competition, a mindset which is likely a result of growing up during the Great Recession. This is something that also applies in the business world. With their combined work ethic and activist-aligned goals, it is no surprise that GenZ is made up of many individuals who live and breathe entrepreneurship in many forms.
One of the most prevalent forms noticeable is youth entrepreneurship. When starting the pitch competition as one of the initiatives of our conference, I expected many of the young teens to shy away from the prospect of building and launching a startup over a weekend. However, the overwhelming responses to our program proved me wrong. With very little optimism about the current state of the world, many members of GenZ seem to be taking matters into their own hands by founding their own initiatives. As an independent group who are warned of increasingly competitive college admissions, members of GenZ like to manage themselves and their resume by starting their own initiatives. This leads them to ending up with not only an impressive resume, but with career-applicable skills from the start.
Something that shaped the submissions in the competition, as well as many of the participants’ view of advocacy in general, was the presence of internet influencers. With the increasing number of users on social media platforms like Tik-Tok, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, etc., members of GenZ have stepped up to be the face of these brands. With millions of followers, creators like Loren Gray, Addison Rae, James Charles, Emma Chamberlain, and more have developed their personal brands and made millions of dollars through the power of social media.
Also notable is the presence of social media activism, also known as “clicktivism.” This is the idea that by liking, sharing, or retweeting a political movement, influencers are actually helping solve a social problem. Popular creators like Charli D’Amelio have posted to their followers support for movements like Black Lives Matter. This has received criticism by many for being ineffective. However, the power of clicktivism is helping bring to light a new wave of activism. Although one like or retweet won’t make a difference, thousands together will. When popular creators help inform their followers of social change, others will be inspired to get involved and take action. We once again see the trend of creators and entrepreneurs aligning their businesses with several activism-related goal statements. Many participants of the pitch competition expressed interest in starting social media accounts or podcasts that are built upon teaching their followers real world issues.
Advocacy built into businesses wasn’t just something exclusive for social media accounts. Several of our participants showed that they wanted to have their initiative aligned with some social movement. Although this was increasingly apparent in nonprofits, even ideas that were seemingly built upon profit were sure to advocate for social good in their products.
Mentoring other young teens taught me a lot about GenZ entrepreneurs and how they will change the world. These young teens can see past cheap marketing tricks and smoke and mirrors . . . as an incredibly impact-oriented group, their initiatives are instead centered around social good and reform. They are unrelentless and unafraid to make groundbreaking strides, even at a young age.
Somehow, it was through teaching and leading the participants of our pitch competition that I was finally able to find my place as an entrepreneur. Instead of being based on funding or recognition, I began measuring my success as a means of how many people I have helped given the resources I have. I had the bravery to put something I was passionate about out into the world. This is the future of entrepreneurship . . . a perfect combination of activism and hard work that will eventually force difficult conversations and change the world.