Here at Venture for America, we recruit and train aspiring millennial entrepreneurs who want to learn how to build businesses. Our goals are to help create 100,000 new U.S. jobs and revitalize American communities. I started VFA in large part because the national entrepreneurship stats among young people are starkly negative -- fewer 18 to 30 year olds are starting businesses than at any point in the last 24 years. This struck me -- and the people who support VFA -- as a train wreck. Fewer new companies today means fewer new jobs tomorrow.
So what businesses and initiatives will 24-year-old entrepreneurs start if given the chance? Every year, we have a crowdfunding competition to find out. Our Fellows post their projects on Indiegogo, and we put up $15k in prize money as extra motivation.
It’s always illuminating, the challenges that they take on. This year their projects include:
1. Al-Dente by Simple Kitchen
When Swad Komanduri’s father was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, he sought to find alternative dietary options that wouldn’t deprive him of the rice-bound dishes traditionally served in their Indian, vegetarian home. Swad ultimately found that rice cooked al-dente style (a process characterized by preparing pasta and grains in excess water) had 25 percent fewer calories than rice cooked in a rice cooker. This led him to create Al-Dente -- a kitchen appliance that automates the draining of water during cooking, providing the convenience of rice cookers with the health benefits of al-dente cooking. Good thing Swad went to Caltech!
Swad’s already hit 80 percent of his fundraising goal on Indiegogo. With a little help, he can empower other health-conscious families to enjoy the meals they grew up on -- and then some.
2. Bikes ORO
Chelsea Koglmeier was a triathlete at Duke. She loves bikes, and she wants more people to have one, particularly in underserved regions. Enter Bikes ORO (Of Reckless Optimism). Designed after the infamous Flying Machine model, Bikes ORO creates chain-free, lightweight, cost-effective bikes for everyday use. They then donate 15 percent of the profit from each bike to organizations intent on providing bike access to underprivileged people in under-serviced regions. Exciting stuff, right? World Bicycle Relief seems to think so.
Chelsea and Bikes ORO and have already raised $23,000 -- roughly 50 percent of their crowd funding goal -- which is enough to get a bunch of people a new set of wheels they’re going to love. Chelsea is definitely going places, literally and figuratively.
3. The Redge
Leigh Sevin and Jinesh Shah were always getting gifts that they didn’t really want. Awkward! They founded The Redge so that they could have a wish list of what they really wanted that they could easily share with, say, their aunts and uncles. Think of it as an online personal shopping cart you can throw things into and show other people when your birthday rolls around.
They set a new stretch goal after they roared past their original crowdfunding goal by a mile -- it seems like a lot of people are getting gifts they don’t want. Maybe Leigh and Jinesh will change that in a little while.
Other Fellow projects include a mentor network for women, a card game that spurs profound conversations, a way to make your phone alarm ring from across the room and other fascinating ideas that give you a sense of what the world would look like if young people could bring their visions to reality. They’re all great ideas. More importantly, the Fellows are working hard to make them real.
Millennials get a bad rap sometimes about their grit and perseverance. This makes it all the more important that we highlight those who are taking on the tall task of trying to build something. Starting a company is rough. It’s even harder when you’re young -- I know this firsthand, because my first company flopped when I was 25.
So let’s get behind Al-Dente, Bikes ORO, the Redge and the eight other young entrepreneurs and show them that great things are possible if they put themselves out there. If they and their friends see that hard work gets rewarded, the sky’s the limit.