FA Career Planner

Millennial entrepreneurs driven by purpose as much as profits

Deborah Nason, special to CNBC.com

Although a recent SBA study (click here to download) reports that entrepreneurship among Gen Y is lower than for prior generations, those millennials who do start businesses are bent on making huge impacts.

"This generation is definitely not focused on money," said Maneesh Sagar, venture capitalist, founder of start-up incubator Thynk Different and a longtime instructor/mentor to entrepreneurs at the Columbia Business School. "They're very purpose-driven.

Hero Images | Getty Images

"Millennials tend to be a little more self-aware, more confident and less about keeping up with the Joneses," he said.

It's how they were raised.

"They've grown up in an environment where they can focus on self-actualization, with parents telling them they can be whatever they want to be," Sagar said.

Entrepreneur Katy Aucoin, 28, has a big vision for her company: to change the gifting market. She is the founder of dearduck, a national personalized gift recommendation service now in pre-launch. The premise is to enable gift-givers to give presents that are deeply appreciated by the receiver.

Starting a business? Don't get caught by these surprises

"My goal is to strengthen relationships through confident gifting," she said. "There's so much clutter and technology. It's too easy to lose track of family and friends."

During her previous career as an IT consultant, Aucoin always knew she wanted to have her own self-expressive business. She sought out mentors locally and nationally and put together a team of experienced partners.

"My parents brought out my creative side," she said. "They encouraged me to be thoughtful and take a larger view of what my idea could become."

Accepted career path

Derek Lee, 35, is co-founder of LG Fairmont, a data-driven real estate brokerage that matches clients to specialized agents. His vision is to fundamentally change the way real estate brokerages are run. He is currently entrepreneur-in-residence at Columbia Business School and is on his fifth business in 13 years.

"Being a serial entrepreneur wasn't a thing back when I got started," he said. "Nobody dropped out of college to start a business.

"Business and entrepreneurial knowledge [are] being accelerated," Lee continued. "With these new young role models like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg … more young people think entrepreneurship is a viable path.

College graduate? Need a job? Apply in these booming fields

"The ambitions are greater — they all want to go public or be acquired by Google."

Exceptionally talented millennials are acting differently nowadays, according to Lee. "Instead of going into the professions, they're starting businesses," he said.

Such observations are exemplified by brothers Luca and Sevryn Shelesky, co-owners of a Thomaston Feed franchise, which specializes in holistic and organic pet food.

Sevryn, 25, graduated from a pre-veterinary program and decided that going into business would serve his personal goals better than becoming a veterinarian.

There have been major technological shifts, bringing about an evolution, from building social networks and cool apps to now building real technology. ... It's a good time to be an entrepreneur every time there's a shift.
Derek Lee
co-founder of LG Fairmont

A specialist in pet nutrition, Sevryn envisions making raw food diets for pets as popular and acceptable as kibble. The store allows him to spread his message his way.

"I want to help people and make the difference in people's lives the way I would have as a vet," he said.

For his part, Luca, 27, always wanted to be business owner and sees a disconnect between higher education and entrepreneurship. After college, he was in the financial sector but left to co-found the store.

"In my opinion, if you're surrounded by the right environment and mentors — rather than putting money into tuition — you can make a successful business instead," he said. "I don't think college necessarily prepares you for the real world."

Technological and cultural shifts

Lee of LG Fairmont noted that "there have been major technological shifts, bringing about an evolution, from building social networks and cool apps to now building real technology in areas like robotics, health care and home automation."

The barriers to entry are coming down, he said, citing lower prices for radio-frequency identification (or "RFID") and electronic components, the ability to develop software inexpensively and the explosion of data science.

"It's a good time to be an entrepreneur every time there's a shift," Lee said.

Need job advice? Try turning to your financial advisor for help

According to Thynk Different's Sagar, "As net natives, their influences are very different than those of older generations."

"Over the last 10 years, since smartphones, it's easier for them to test ideas," he added. "They have technological resources to draw on.

"They're the first generation with ready-made distribution platforms, such as Etsy, Google or Amazon."

Software developer and serial entrepreneur Kunal Gupta, 33, has developed a new collaboration platform, in pre-launch, called "Better," to help businesses, organizers and groups with a social purpose recruit workers, volunteers and resources.

"What I'm hoping to create is the way millennials find work in the gig economy," he said. "This plays to their sense of impact and community.

"The trends I see are people coming together around novel ideas," Gupta said. "There is more and more collaboration."

Why is that? "There's a cultural shift, with more interest in cooperative efforts," he said. "The entrepreneurs are acting as the coordinators: They're there to build the system and do something."

— By Deborah Nason, special to CNBC.com