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Funding Your Future

Entrepreneurship: The Ultimate Side Hustle

Erin Sawyer

Vice President, Programs, Partnerships, and Alumni, JA Worldwide

Facing financial woes, millennials focus on cutting costs. But why not increase income with a little innovation? Everyone has an idea worth building on.

As the first generation to combine steeply rising housing costs with the burden of overwhelming student debt, millennials are constantly worried about money. Perhaps that’s why our targeted ads are filled with gurus who want to teach us about budgeting and simplifying, with some telling us that the secret to financial success is cutting back on avocado toast while others compel us to give away anything that doesn’t cause us joy. 

Changing the equation

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in financial literacy. Saving, investing, the smart use of credit — all of it. For a decade and a half, I’ve worked at JA Worldwide (also known as Junior Achievement, Young Enterprise, or INJAZ), where financial health is one-third of our focus, along with work readiness and entrepreneurship. My quibble is that the equation for stretching your budget is usually “income – fewer expenses = more money to save or invest.” But why is there so much focus on the “expenses” part and so little on “income”?

Instead of fixating on reducing our expenses ever further, it’s time for American millennials to use our skills, talents, and passions to start our own businesses and entrepreneurial side hustles, boosting our income and creating greater opportunity for savings and investments. In much of the rest of the world, entrepreneurship is already a popular and successful way for millennials to create additional income, especially as an alternative to contract work, such as driving for Uber or delivering for DoorDash.

Creating solutions

On December 1 of this year, JA will celebrate 100 years of teaching entrepreneurship to young people. In the early years of JA, during the prosperous 1920s, the company was a part-time job for many students, creating pocket change earnings. But during the Great Depression, students discovered that JA could be a full-time solution to family poverty. Since then, many of our students have gone on to start and lead innovative and exciting companies. Others have become intrapreneurs, leveraging their entrepreneurship skills within their companies in the corporate world. Still others operate their JA companies while also working a full-time job. All are using entrepreneurship to boost their incomes and standard of living.

Debunking the myths

As part of our Centennial, we released a tribute to our alumni and the lessons they’ve learned, “The Entrepreneurial Attitude” by Larry C. Farrell. The book includes a debunking of several myths that have long floated around the idea of entrepreneurship, such as:

  • “Entrepreneurs are born, not made.” – We train over 10 million youth around the world each year.
  • “Entrepreneurs are high-risk investors.” – Our students start with nothing but an idea, and then approach family and friends for a very modest purchase of shares.
  • “All entrepreneurs are nerdy coders who dropped out of Harvard.” – One quick look around a JA alumni conference will prove otherwise.
  • “Entrepreneurs are driven by capitalistic greed and are on the prowl for unsuspecting dupes.” – Not possible when the overwhelming majority of JA student companies are designed to solve a social challenge.
  • “I can just get my MBA and learn everything about business.” – There’s nothing wrong with a graduate degree if it fulfills you or moves your career in a new direction, but the biggest complaint about MBA programs is that you’re too far removed from building a business, which students as young as 10 or 11 do through JA.

Entrepreneurs in everyone

Remember that you don’t have to have gone through a JA program to become an entrepreneur. Between books, videos, podcasts, and good, old-fashioned trial and error, you can fashion your interests and passions into a successful side hustle that expands your income. As you nurture and grow your company, you may be surprised at how quickly it becomes your full-time gig.

But if you are one of the hundreds of millions of JA alumni who learned the skill set and mindset to start your own business, you’ll find an entrepreneurial ecosystem waiting for you in our alumni community, where we link like-minded professionals, offer opportunities for lifelong learning beyond the JA curriculum, and support your entrepreneurial dreams.

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