Tue | May 26, 2020

Rise in young CEOs – SMEs increase as youth shun regular 9-5 jobs

Published:Wednesday | May 4, 2016 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham

Lack of opportunities, a high unemployment rate, the unbridled willingness to take risks, and a strong passion to succeed are driving an increasing number of young persons to start their own business. In fact, facilitators of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are acknowledging this global paradigm shift as young adults shun the nine-to-five workforce and delve into their own innovative, moneymaking business ventures.

"I graduate about 200 young persons per year in the course that I teach at the University of the West Indies, and most of them are looking to start their own business because they have recognised that there are not a lot of jobs waiting for them," said Valerie Veira, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), speaking yesterday during The Gleaner's Growth Forum held at the media house's Kingston office.

Janine Taylor, manager of Things Jamaican, said that young entrepreneurs have taken it to another level as they are very deliberate in their planning and strategy and are willing to take the risk, tapping into a global space. "They are not just thinking Jamaica, they are thinking globally and using social media as a key tool. In fact, just the profile of this demographic makes the potential to succeed much higher."

Acknowledging that over the last four years she has seen a larger percentage of young entrepreneurs, Taylor said: "With three out of 10 persons who want to start their own business, I find that they are very serious and very aware of exactly what it is they want to do, the type of business they want to go into. They know that they have a skill that can be converted into money, and they are actually more robust in terms of their approach to business than some of the older persons. In fact, the demographics are showing that they are more likely to succeed or accelerate than the older persons."

In fact, she said, her company deliberately targets young persons because they come with very sophisticated business ideas, especially as it relates to the information technology sector. "So you find now, 25-year-old CEOs earning the same income as businesses that have been around for 20 years because they are tapping into new opportunities and new industries."

Taylor added: "This demographic is what we call voluntary entrepreneur. For them, it is not about survival or being forced into business. They have deliberately identified a business opportunity that they can earn money from, and, in fact, young entrepreneurship is now a global trend."

Twenty-four-year-old Demola Cunningham, marketing director of a custom-order button-making company, Button It Jamaica, told The Gleaner that lack of opportunity is the main reason for young persons to go after owning their own businesses.

"We also believe in a vision that only our demographic understands and supports as we really find that most companies don't welcome young, fresh, and innovative ideas. Well, only until a competitor uses that idea and reaps rewards from it. Then they'll smack their head and say, 'We should have done that and given it a chance. Why didn't we?'" Cunningham said.

Audrey Tugwell Henry, senior general manager, retail banking division, at the National Commercial Bank, is also acknowledging this paradigm shift as more young persons are seeking business start-up loans. Hence, the institution has now tailored programmes for them.

"In fact, my daughter, a young adult, said to me, 'I would not be caught dead in a cubicle'. From what I am seeing, young persons are not looking for a 9-5. Yes, companies are still getting job applications, but when you look at the unemployment rate for young persons, you can understand why they are going the self-employed route," stated Henry.

Harold Davis, deputy chief executive officer of JBDC, said there is no doubt that the profile of the SME sector has changed, especially as it relates to the level of sophistication of young adults with a business plan.

"They are not coming in to do a ting or asking how much they can get. You can see that they have thought it through. The business plan is clear in their minds, and perhaps six out of 10 of those business ideas are technology driven. Many of them are in what we categorise as high growth potential business," said Davis.

Youth entrepreneurship will be a major feature at the ninth annual Small Business Expo to be hosted on Thursday, May 12, at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in St Andrew. The expo is part of the JBDC's 15th anniversary celebrations.