It’s no news that millennials don’t work the same way as previous generations. We’re less concerned about climbing the corporate ladder or using the same measures for success as those who came before us. Whether that’s due to coming of age in a time of economic crisis and suffering the highest rates of unemployment in the nation while simultaneously juggling the most student-loan debt, we’re determined to find our own way. And so far, we’ve decided to embrace entrepreneurialism as our path to success, as 67% of millennials have said their career goals involved starting their own business. That means that the old world order is coming to a close, and it’s time to find a new way to work.
That’s where IBM’s reality web series, “A New Way to Startup Competition” comes in. They’ve brought together 10 millennial-founded startups focused on social good missions to help them get some well-deserved attention, as well as a chance to compete for software, services, and mentorship, and ultimately a trip to TED@IBM. The ten companies met up at Austin’s SXSW this year and pitched their companies to a panel of judges with three rotating slides only—a far cry from the death-by-PowerPoint anyone who has ever sat in an office situation for long has experienced. The point was to capture the millennial audience, quickly, sufficiently, and keep them intrigued (and having millennial social media goddess Chelsea Krost host helped give them a huge boost to their target market.) From there, five companies were chosen to continue and move into a house in Austin, TX to complete a series of challenges, be mentored, and create a space for entrepreneurship to thrive.
What makes this competition stand out though, is that the series strives hard to not change the way millennials choose to work by forcing older models on them, and neither does it dismiss the new style either. Instead, the weekly challenges are designed to capture the raw, collaborative style that founded these companies, and help them turn that into successful growth. And what’s the most fascinating to me, is that as a founder, and I suppose pseudo-entrepreneur, of a women’s online magazine, and someone who works daily with millennials, I find myself nodding along and picking up valuable tips. When Chelsea Krost is working with them on a 24 hour social blitz campaign, I jotted down notes to apply to my own project. When they gifted contestants with iPads and IBM Verse, a collaborative real-time communication software, my first thought was the immediate understanding of how much they just simplified those founder’s lives, because keeping track and working in real time remotely with a large number of people is often like herding cats, and LD alone utilizes three different platforms to accomplish it. As Jordan Monroe, the founder of Owlet, a tech company that creates wearable baby monitors that send vital health information to your smartphone about your infant, mentioned, they’re running on a shoestring, and all their employees have taken pay cuts to work for his company. There’s rarely a lot of money to go around for fancy software in a startup environment, and for once a reality show is working to help others, instead of just cutting them down for entertainment.
The contestants themselves are also focused on improving lives. Each company’s mission is to help people through technology, whether that’s through Stretch Recipes, Inc. putting together cheap and affordable recipes and the shopping lists to go with them in an app; the Lassy Project’s app which instantly sends out an alert to community members that a child has gone missing, getting the word out in moments instead of the hours required for an Amber Alert; or Sproutel’s teddybear that helps children with chronic illness understand and learn more about it in an approachable and comforting manner; each company is doing its part to make the world a better place. And that too is telling of the millennial generation, of which, according to a Deloitte survey, 75% believe corporations are more focused on their own agendas than helping society. That mindset doesn’t sit well with us. Six out of 10 millennials want their jobs and companies to have a sense of purpose, and if the status quo isn’t providing that, it’s little wonder our generations’ entrepreneurs are stepping up to fill that hole.
It’s heartening to many of us who feel dissatisfied and disheartened in our jobs to see that young leaders are working towards finding a new way to work, one that sits a little more comfortably with our values and our priorities. The New Way to Startup Competition is perhaps the old guard’s way of acknowledging these changes and embracing them instead of the rhetoric fueled disavowals of an entire generation we’ve been seeing for the last few years. Personally, I think it’s about time. So check out the web series and feel hopeful about the future of work for once.
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