Research suggests entrepreneurial activity has declined among Millennials. The share of people under 30 who own a business has fallen to almost a quarter-century low, according to a 2015 Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data. A survey of 1,200 Millennials conducted in 2016 by the Economic Innovation Group found that more Millennials believed they could have a successful career by staying at one company and attempting to climb the ladder than by founding a new one. Two years ago, EIG’s president and co-founder, John Lettieri, testified before the U.S. Senate, “Millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation in recent history.”
Some of the reasons have been well-documented. The romantic view of entrepreneurship involves angel investors and venture capital funds, but in fact, the ordinary entrepreneur is more likely to fund a start-up using personal savings—something underemployed Millennials simply could not build as they entered the workforce during or in the immediate wake of the Great Recession. Funding from friends and family is the next most common source, but this personal network could not help much during the most recent economic downturn, when so much home equity was underwater. Student debt worsened the underlying economic problems. According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, between 2004 and 2014, the number of student borrowers rose by 89 percent.
Lately, though, it seems that even those who might typically have access to other forms of funding, like venture capital, are having a hard time getting investors’ attention. As Matt Krisiloff, a former director at the Y Combinator start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley, tweeted, “Start-ups are a lot less cool than they used to be.” Michael Sadler, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, is concerned about the rising concentration of start-up investment in just a few super-performing regions such as Austin, New York, and Silicon Valley. As with American politics, it appears the geography of U.S. venture capital and economic growth has become increasingly polarized.
There’s more competition from abroad, too. Chinese venture capital and private-equity firms—and the entrepreneurs they invest in—are challenging America’s historic tech dominance. In the past, this kind of investing tended to involve American funders and American companies. But last year, Asian investors put nearly the same amount into tech start-ups as their U.S. counterparts, according to the Wall Street Journal, with most Chinese-led investments going into the country’s own firms. Of the top five global VC deals in 2017, three were Chinese companies: Didi (a ride-sharing app), Meituan-Dianping (an e-commerce platform), and Toutiao (a news feed reader).