Mehdi Farsi, Reza Farsi and Eric Ferguson didn’t send out resumes seeking a corporate job after they graduated from Arizona State University a few years ago.
Instead, the longtime friends and avid cyclists turned their hobby into a business, launching State Bicycle Co., a maker of fixed-gear bicycles in Tempe, Ariz. Since its start in late 2009, sales have more than tripled, it has opened three retail stores and it employs nearly 25 people.
Now the three owners are part of a national movement to drive the Millennial Generation to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses — rather than wait for more jobs to open up in today’s rough economy.
“It looks bleak for a lot of people out there. Jobs are hard to come by,” said Mehdi Farsi, 27. But “there is another way to make it right now. You take matters into your own hands.”
Called Buy Young, the initiative was organized by Our Time, a non-profit, non-partisan group in Washington, D.C. that focuses on issues that matter to people age 30 and younger. It kicked off in July with meetings at the White House and Capitol Hill, attended by 150 young entrepreneurs, including the founders of Wordpress, LivingSocial and Gilt Group, as well as officials such as Sen. John McCain.
On the Buy Young website, consumers are encouraged to support and shop at small businesses owned by entrepreneurs ages 35 and under. About a dozen businesses are featured at a time, each offering special discounts of up to 75 percent off. A small percentage of the sales help fund Our Time.
State Bicycle Co. is among the small businesses featured on the site this month, selling some of its bicycles for $300 instead of $429 each.
Young workers have been especially hurt by the economy, with the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds at 18.4 percent in 2010, twice that of all workers, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. And that doesn’t count young workers who are underemployed and filling the gap with part-time jobs and unpaid internships.
The Buy Young campaign strives to show young people that they can build businesses and create jobs for the economy, said Matthew Segal, founder of Our Time. About 60 businesses have already been highlighted by the website, with more on the way.
“Our constituency needs jobs more than anything,” he said. “We had nothing to turn to other than creating our own.”
For brothers Mehdi Farsi and Reza Farsi and childhood friend Eric Ferguson, sports, particularly cycling, have always been part of their lives. During their time in college and after graduation, they also dabbled in a number of business projects, including running an online luxury furniture store. But it was cycling that drew them more and more. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease and all the energy was coming here,” Ferguson, 26, said.
State Bicycle Co. orders the parts and assembles the bicycles at its warehouse in Arizona. Each model is made for a short period of time before it is retired and replaced by a new one. That helps to draw young consumers who want something unique, they said.
Only 8 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds own businesses now, and 11 percent plan to start businesses within the next year, according to a report by the Young Invincibles, a non-profit, non-partisan youth organization. A third of them said they have postponed starting a business because of the economy. But it's worth it, said the founders of State Bicycle Co.
“You have plenty of years to fall back on backup plans,” said Reza Farsi, 25. “There's no reason not to do what you want to do at a young age.”
He added, “It's just so much easier when you are doing something you love.”