Not all young entrepreneurs go high-tech

A low-tech enterprise
photo courtesy flickr user EvinDC

(MoneyWatch) You may have mowed lawns in high school to make money. But probably not the way Josh Skolnick did. Skolnick, who grew up in Ft. Washington, Pa., drummed up so much yard care business that by the end of high school he had multiple crews working for him. He kept growing his lawn care enterprise until, in 2008, when he was 25 years old, a customer asked him to deal with a dead tree on his property. Skolnick hired a contractor to do the work, and while he was there, started talking to neighbors and knocking on doors. "I sold $20,000 of tree work up and down the street," he tells me. Sensing a market, he started Monster Tree Service, a business he's now franchising.

It's not the usual Gen Y story of starting a tech company. But Monster Tree Service is profitable, it creates jobs, and it turns out this phenomenon isn't unique to Skolnick. "The emotional reaction to being an entrepreneur is much more innate within the millennial generation than any generation in history," says Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council. Young people know that the labor market has changed; "the traditional construct of a 9 to 5 job is no longer the stable, guaranteed position of yesteryear," Gerber tells me. People want to do things better and faster -- partly because technology enables that -- but also just because they know it's possible. Why wait to change the world? That's why a 2011 Kauffman Foundation study found that 54 percent of the nation's millennials either want to start a business, or have already.

Technology makes entrepreneurship more accessible, but it's a tool, not the motivation, and there are lots of "low-tech" young entrepreneurs like Skolnick out there. There are people like Phil Cooley in Detroit, whose Slows Bar BQ opened in 2005 (when he was in his 20s) and has since become a destination restaurant. Or Sarah Fisher, the Indy 500 race car driver who, at age 31 isn't just a racing champion, she's her own boss as the team owner of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Skolnick reports that some of his entrepreneurial nature is innate -- he was always negotiating over chores as a kid -- but like many members of Gen Y, he's simply curious about the world. "I listen to what people have to say and ask a lot of questions," he says, and he doesn't believe that just because something is known as a hard business (i.e. tree care) that it can't be done. Some people call that generational attitude entitlement, but if a high school kid can drum up enough business to employ multiple people, why not?

As Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation said in the press release on the 2011 survey, this is "a generation that is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, and that is good news for the U.S." It could mean a lot of new jobs and growth down the road.

What's your favorite "low-tech" young entrepreneur story?

Photo courtesy flickr user EvinDC