Last week, members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), students from Washington DC-area universities, and government officials gathered at the White House. They participated in the “I Am an Entrepreneur” event and Summit on Innovation to celebrate November’s National Entrepreneurship Month.
Ronnie Cho, associate director at the Office of Public Engagement for the White House, kicked off the event, which consisted of a panel discussion, led by MTV News correspondent Sway, and breakout meetings, led by seasoned entrepreneurs from the YEC.
“Entrepreneurship is a proud tradition,” Cho said. “It’s baked into our nation’s DNA.”
Cho, and subsequent speaker YEC Founder Scott Gerber, spoke about the importance of young entrepreneurs not only to the current administration but also to the nation for posterity.
“Youth entrepreneurship was not a viable trend until about 18 months ago,” Gerber said. “It’s not the social norm of yesteryear, but this generation realizes that it’s needed.”
Gerber shared his view of young entrepreneurship as “creating opportunities for other Americans” and advised students in the audience to “believe in what you’re doing and you’ll find your place in this world.”
Sway, well-known for his work with MTV News, was then introduced as the moderator. He first spoke about his connection to entrepreneurship; before becoming a correspondent for MTV News, he had led various enterprises, including creating a successful Indie record label in the San Francisco Bay Area and founding Hip Hop tour Rock the Bells. He spoke thereafter about the importance of young entrepreneurship in today’s economic climate.
“We’re suffering challenges in the economy,” Sway said. “There may not be a job that fits you when you get out of school.” Sway encouraged the students in the audience to “make a job” for themselves and others as an alternative to unemployment and underemployment.
Sway led a conversational discussion for the audience, hitting on issues in entrepreneurship such as mentorship, marketing, company culture, and more. The panel included Jeff Avallon of startup IdeaPaint, Jeremy Johnson of 2tor, Tina Wells of Buzz Marketing Group, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit and Breadpig, Nick Friedman of College Hunks Hauling Junk, and Dina Kaplan of Blip.tv.
Mentorship was a popular topic on the panel. IdeaPaint co-Founder Jeff Avallon spoke about mentoring being “one of the most important things in developing a person and a business.” He recommended not to listen to one mentor though only, but rather to “seek out different people and opinions, and filter the advice to what’s most pertinent and relevant.”
Blip.tv’s Dina Kaplan advised to “immerse yourself in the economy of favors.” She spoke about mentorship and how reciprocal give-and-take “powers the world of entrepreneurship and startups.”
Garnering media attention for a business through PR was also a hot topic. Nick Friedman of College Hunks Hauling Junk, whose business is regularly featured in local and national press,” said to “approach PR as a Sales job.” He recommended to pitch journalists with one of several pre-crafted story angles, and also to fit a business into the story the journalist is trying to tell.
After the panel, the YEC members led small discussion groups with the college students at the event. (See above picture: YEC founder Scott Gerber leads one of the day’s discussion groups). The students were able to pose questions specifically to the YEC members in each room, covering topics from how to quit a day job to pursue an entrepreneurial venture to raising non-traditional startup funding.
The event ended with concluding thoughts from Ronnie Cho and Scott Gerber, and left the students and entrepreneurs with the inspiration that there’s never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur. As Tina Wells, who began the Buzz Marketing Group at age 16, said during the panel, “starting young is great because you can bounce back.” Cho inspired with his own, well-quoted encouragement to “have the moxie to put it [a business] together.”
Doreen Bloch is a strategy consultant, writer and entrepreneur in New York City. Her projects include writing the book The Coolest Startups in America and founding stealth consumer web & mobile application startup Poshly.