Gen Y is more willing than baby boomers to take risks

The Baltimore Sun

So many folks in my generation (Gen Y) are going out on their own after college or after short stints in corporate America.

Instead of thinking about how to get along with the boss, they're becoming their own boss, tackling all sorts of issues associated with running a business. So it's not entirely surprising that colleges and universities are seeing the entrepreneurial ambitions of their students and trying to help.

I spent a lot of time reporting on the increase of entrepreneurship education, including in Maryland where many colleges and universities are offering courses and activities and expanding other opportunities, such as providing internships at startup companies and providing seed money for new businesses. (Check out the story at

What's interesting is the changing attitude among young people concerning work, the business world and taking risks.

I ran across a recent survey by the OPEN division of American Express examining the attitudes among baby boomer and Gen Y small business owners. They differ on career choices, risk-taking and serial entrepreneurship. (The survey, conducted by the small business arm of American Express, included 602 small business owners, equally divided between Gen Y and baby boomers.)

Gen Y entrepreneurs (ages 18 to 29) are more likely to have started their business right out of school: 27 percent compared with 9 percent for baby boomers (ages 42-64). About a quarter of baby boomers started their businesses because they were not financially able to retire.

More Gen Y owners say "having fun is a priority in my business"; 75 percent Gen Y vs. 66 percent baby boomers.

Nearly three-quarters of Gen Y entrepreneurs say they like to take risks compared with 53 percent of baby boomers.

Younger business owners are nearly twice as likely to be or plan to be serial entrepreneurs than their baby boomer counterparts (59 percent vs. 33 percent).

Melissa Carrier, associate director of University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, says business ambitions of young people will continue to grow, especially in the area of social ventures.

"You'll see more and more innovation happening on campuses as people focus on green and social responsibilities and the role entrepreneurs play in that," Carrier says.

From the mailbag: Laura, a reader in Baltimore, responded to the column last week asking whether information found on the Internet should disqualify a promising job candidate.

The column examined a fictional case study, featured in Harvard Business Review, involving a prospective employee whose past involvement protesting China's treatment of a dissident journalist could become a sticky situation since the company plans to expand its retail operations there.

"Given the free nature of the Internet and the ability for anyone to post anything true or untrue about a person, I think that for an otherwise good candidate, it would only be fair to ask them about the material and also to emphasize that youthful expressions of self do not always translate well into the corporate working world," she writes.

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