By Mike Green
It’s a simple economic formula: Gen X + Gen Y = Gen E.
Call them “Generation Entrepreneur.” Gen E is comprised of innovators, inventors, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, multimedia content providers, branded bloggers and crafts makers who range in ages from seasoned Gen Xers to adolescent Millennials. They are self-selected Do-It-Yourself risk-takers who believe pursuit of the American Dream is a journey through innovation and entrepreneurship.
Members of Gen E are smart, creative, critical-thinking, problem-solving, tech-savvy, resilient and passionate innovators who seek to turn their dreams into goals with timelines and profit-driven deliverables. You can meet them at pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, Hackathons, Startup Weekends, Maker Faires and BlogWorld conferences. Inside, they all burn with the fuel of inspired ingenuity.
Despite a broad range in Gen E ages and multi-cultures, a common thread unites them: They don’t subscribe to a 40-hour work week replete with repetitive robotic ritualistic tasks. Each day is a new opportunity to apply their skills, knowledge and teamwork to overcome challenges that have measurable results.
Kayin Talton Davis founded Soapbox Theory, a boutique shop that sells greeting cards, t-shirts, bags and other merchandise featuring positive images of Black culture.
Portland’s Kayin Talton Davis is one of the many faces of Oregon’s Gen E.
Talton Davis, 33, is a mother of two and founder of Soapbox Theory, a boutique shop of greeting cards and merchandise primarily based on black culture and the idea that everyone has something to say. She started her business in 2001 as a student in college pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, which she achieved at Portland State University in 2005.
“I was looking for a job and realized that a lot of the traditional mechanical engineering jobs were not going to be a good fit for me,” Talton Davis said in a telephone interview. “Because I had always been on the creative side; even in the engineering classes, the designs I did looked more like a designer did them, as far as the rounded corners and user-friendliness, as opposed to just working properly. They worked properly, as well, but more toward the user experience.”
Talton Davis credits Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO) with assistance and mentoring that helped transition her talent and passion from profitable hobby into a full-fledged start-up business. After launch, she met her husband, Cleo Davis, owner of Screw Loose Studio. Together, they’ve juggled two side-by-side enterprises, two small children and two full-time workloads that defy proverbial banker’s hours.
Talton Davis is determined her daughters will follow in the educational pathway that provided her with the foundation upon which she has built her business: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“I’ve always enjoyed science and math. They were my favorite subjects, even as young as elementary school.” Davis said. “Having a more analytic background has helped me to be able to see what kinds of things are working and changes that need to be made.”
Talton Davis represents a rapidly growing landscape of lifestyle entrepreneurs across America who approach today’s smaller, stagnant job market seeking opportunities to create their own jobs.
Thomas Friedman expounded on this notion in his March 30 New York Times Oped column titled, “Need a Job? Invent it.” Quoting Tony Wagner, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” Friedman writes:
“… knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.”
In his new book, “What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences,” Brian Solis drops this data bomb:
Only 7% of Gen Y works for a Fortune 500 Company, as start-ups dominate this demographic.
Solis’ revelation dovetails with a body of work produced by one of the largest foundations studying entrepreneurship trends in America.
The Kauffman Foundation reports that, since 1980, nearly all net new job growth in America was due to start-ups.
In 2004, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report titled, “Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?” The overall findings of the report revealed that men in their thirties in 1974 had a median income of $40,000 while men of the same age in 2004 had a median income of $35,000. Adjusted for inflation, the drop of 12 percent from one generation to the next was unprecedented.
For Gen E, the writing is on the wall: Create your own job.
The Davis family exemplifies a national trend toward freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent workers, who are projected to be the majority of the workforce as early as 2030.
Over the next decade, creating jobs may be the job for which every student must be prepared.
This article first appeared in Oregon Business Magazine and is re-published here with permission from the author.
Mike Green is co-founder of the America21 Project, which promotes innovation and inclusive competitiveness. He is also the founder of Saving America’s Black Boys campaign.