March 3, 2012
If you’re young and an entrepreneur, and you don’t know you Scott Gerber is, you need to. He is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and co-founder of Gen Y Capital Partners. He is also a serial entrepreneur, internationally syndicated columnist, host of the Inc.com web show Ask Gerber, author of the book Never Get a “Real” Job and has been featured in all the major media, from the New York Times to ABC World News Tonight.
I had a chance to sit down with Gerber recently and talk to him about what you need to start a successful company, where YEC is headed, and why Gen Y Capital Partners is different from YCombinator and TechStars.
Tech Cocktail: What are 5 key learning points for young entrepreneurs?
Scott Gerber: 1. Change your mindset. A lot of young people have an American Idol view of life, with ego at play and a focus on things that are not relevant. Drop that ego, because entrepreneurship is about extremely hard work.
2. Start simple, and don’t re-invent the wheel. Stick to simple and build something organically that can grow over time.
3. No one will invest in your idea. Be realistic and base your business on factual data. Keep your feet on the ground and plan on something you can handle.
4. Be aware that you need to get QUALITY mentors around you. Make sure to choose the right ones – they are also buying into you, not just your business!
5. No revenue means no business. You must find ways to earn revenue, and you shouldn’t build a business for a hypothetical exit.
Tech Cocktail: What do you consider your strengths?
Gerber: I had to first identify my strengths, and then I was able to notice my weaknesses. I’ve always been good with communications skills – I am very to-the-point regarding my plan, strategies, and overall view of the world. I am a relationship guy – some would say a super connector – I enjoy meeting and helping people. My greatest skill is building teams of people who are smarter than me, and this has been true for Gen-Y, YEC, and Young Entrepreneurship Act.
Tech Cocktail: How did YEC get its start?
Gerber: Short answer: After graduating from college, I was creating a business and falling into little traps early on. I started writing for Entrepreneur Magazine and a syndicated column about young entrepreneurship. We slowly started YEC because it is what we wish we had when we were coming up in the ranks.
Tech Cocktail: Can you share the vision of YEC and how you plan to realize that vision?
Gerber: I see myself doing this forever, going global, and creating a brand name that means something to people. Imagine TED all over the world, but instead, it’s YEC helping young entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls and traps that we have gone through.
Tech Cocktail: What is the significance of the Gen-Y Fund?
Gerber: The goal of the program is to activate more students to become entrepreneurs and help them overcome 3 major barriers to starting a company: college loan debt, finding mentors, and covering basic living expenses. We want to create a more holistic social approach for this demographic, starting with a $15,000-$50,000 seed round and moving up to $250k for the following round.
We are also the first public/private partnership with President Obama, and we have college incubators at Cogswell, Princeton, Georgetown, and Babson, a program we look forward to expanding.
Tech Cocktail: Why should students apply to you instead of YCombinator or TechStars?
Gerber: We want to create more synergies, and we aren’t focused only on straight tech businesses. We are more of a complementary incubation model and not really direct competition.
Tech Cocktail: How do you get an into the YEC?
Gerber: It is by invite only; a current YEC member has to refer you. We look at entrepreneurial track record, current employees, what kind of sales, social capital, etc., and our acceptance rate is 10%.
Tech Cocktail: Any final comments or advice for young entrepreneurs?
Gerber: This is the time for unity and support and for young people to look at all kinds of opportunities. If they can stand behind us for the Youth Entrepreneurship Act and everything else we do, we can turn this into a movement of a new entrepreneurial generation.
Carlos Cheung is an undergrad student at Georgetown University. You can find him on Twitter at @CarloskCheung.
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