I was barely 17 when my nephew, Dylan, was born and it was 7 ½ years before there was another niece to put my attention to. In those 7 ½ years, I graduated high school, graduated college, got married, moved across the country to California and back to Maryland, and I started my company, now The Sappari Group.
I was 24 years old.
I had started working at a young age, being entrepreneurial from the get go. At 10 years old I distributed flyers for the newly opened dance studio in town for 10 cents a piece. I had already established a goal that I was going to start saving now for the car I would purchase at 16 years old. When I started my business I had been around the world of small business for a while: the dance studio, a pit beef franchise, a rare book shop, direct sales, jewelry and gift store, and an artist (my sister) selling her lampwork jewelry.
And while “small business owner” may have been the term used then, I was truly surrounded by entrepreneurs.
When I began my company, I had already helped my husband start his consulting firm. But aside from ‘how to write a business plan’ I really didn’t know the ins and outs of how to create and scale a profitable company. Even with all of my exposure to the world of small business and entrepreneurship, I lacked experience. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
I started networking early on. I knew that connecting with others who were experiencing success – and failure – was the way to learn and grow. And, while the connections I made at the beginning stage of my company are still connections and colleagues today, that network took a long time to develop and a lot of focused attention to cultivate. But it was so crucial.
Networking is a foundational element of business success.
We are not successful alone, in a vacuum. As a younger person, my focus in networking was on my own business success. It was not until I heard the story, shared by a fellow business owner, that his colleague succeeded in forming a strong network just by offering to be of assistance to others, that I made the shift. From this point forward I shifted my focus from my business’s success to that of my colleagues, and my network grew substantially.
Twelve years into my company, my nephew, who had been 7 when I started Sappari, was now 19, in college, studying finance. I realized I had an opportunity to expose him to networking earlier, allowing him to forge the connections and mentorship that could shape his career. I invited him first to attend the BNI (Business Networking International) meeting I was a member of, and then I later asked him to substitute for me in this same group. I asked him to help provide support to the events that I host, Momentum LIve: The CEO Experience. He said, ‘yes’.
What I observed showed me that having a wide age of participants in the event was good for both the younger and the more established business owners. The established owners were eager to pass along their knowledge and also interested in hearing what younger people wanted. The younger ones were interested in learning from experience and happy to have something of value to contribute. Dylan attended several events and forged relationships with many of the participants over the years.
Dylan and I then worked together to create the Young CEO Scholarship Program, whose purpose is to close the gap on experience for younger entrepreneurs and to provide access to a strong network of business owners, something that older entrepreneurs have more access to.
Dylan, now 25, could be considered the program’s first recipient. Alex Dalton (20), founder of FINFO, Inc. was another recipient. When Alex and I spoke after the event, he shared, “My friends looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was going all the way down to Maryland, from Pittsburgh, to attend this conference by myself. But it was an amazing time. I got to meet some amazing people, and doing things like that, I think is essential to being able to expand that reach. And obviously, of course, at the end of the day, improve your professional career.”
Peter Schramm (29), CEO and Founder of Lattus and another young CEO says, “I realized that the power of people helping people can really springboard you personally and professionally.” Pete has gone on to work to create that springboard through his company Lattus, which is a platform for fostering conversations for mentor/mentee relationships and for networking.
While the average age of a successful startup founder is 45 years (HBR Article), there are plenty of entrepreneurs, like me, Dylan, Alex, and Peter, that jumped/are jumping in at a young age. Young entrepreneurs bring so much to the table, yet they face challenges that are unique to them because of their age. Two of the biggest challenges that they face are:
1 – Lack of experience – Just given the number of years on this planet, you may not yet have deep experience in the field you would like to pursue.
2 – Limited network – you may not know or have access to other successful business owners
Having access to an established network of mentors can close both of these gaps.
Momentum Live: The CEO Experience can help you establish that network and gain experience by connecting with a strong and supportive group of entrepreneurs and CEOs.
If you are a young entrepreneur, I invite you to apply for the Young CEO Scholarship and close this gap for yourself. We are especially interested in applicants from minority groups.
Please comment below, I would live to hear from you.