We’ve all heard the start-up narrative. Bootstrapped college drop-outs work out of a garage, build fast, get cash, strike it rich, and save the world. Being part of a start-up is nothing short of being a rock star, or at least from what you see on Twitter. In all seriousness, though, start-up fever is taking center stage and very deserving of it. After all, some of the most well-known and innovative companies like Apple, Starbucks, and Google began as venture-backed start-ups. It is truly exciting to wonder what next ambitious company will emerge from the pool of hungry talent looking to change the game. However, as is often the case with mainstream media, these subjects are being oversimplified into easily digestible, slightly misleading themes. It is important to distinguish between hype and reality as well as short-term trends and long-term sustainability, lest we are misled into believing that trendy start-ups are a band-aid solution to our economic woes.
The crucial issue here is job creation. Youth unemployment is inexcusably high. Data from the Economic Policy Institute show that the millennial unemployment rate stands just above 16 percent. Prolonged unemployment has a deleterious effect on the lifelong career prospects of young workers, which affects our entire economy. This is why we must focus on placing our most talented youth in high-impact positions, positions that don’t merely employ but also provide valuable hands-on business experience so they can learn to build sustainable companies that can potentially grow and become larger ones, thereby creating jobs for others. The thing with many ‘hot’ start-ups, trendy as they are, is that a majority will fizzle out. What results is boom and bust, not a net gain of jobs. Our focus should be tailored to small companies with gradual but long-term growth in industries with the potential to enhance American competitiveness and job creation. At a certain point, how many more online media platforms and content-sharing mechanisms do we need? Of course, if done well, these in and of themselves are worthwhile innovations. But don’t dismiss the slow ascension of less glitzy industries like biotech, materials science, and education technology. The jobs lie here not just for now, but for years to come, once larger enterprises are formed.
Any start-up seeking long-term growth needs to ensure that they hire employees eager to work for the right reasons. It is a certain type of person who can handle the start-up mindset. There are fewer resources and greater obstacles. You probably won’t strike it rich and you won’t necessarily be a rock star in the Hollywood sense. But if you define yourself by added value and the irreplaceable nature of your work, then you are sure to be an asset. Furthermore, you will be critical to saving America’s future. And by any definition, that’s a rock star.