WASHINGTON'S LEADING BUSINESS MAGAZINE

Young and restless: Entrepreneurs start earlier and earlier

Youthful opportunists continue to push the entrepreneurial boundaries.
Anthony Adragna |   November 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Jason Green, left, and Marc Barros created the helmet-cam company Contour with prize money from a University of Washington competition.

Back in 2003, Marc Barros and Jason Green were undergraduates with a problem. Both were avid skiers who wanted to create videos of their exploits for friends and family, but the existing technology made that impossible. So they decided to create their own helmet camera and enter the business plan competition at the University of Washington. They finished third and used the $10,000 prize money to start their own company, Contour.

Now the company is hitting the big time. Inc. magazine recently placed Contour seventh on its list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in America.

Entrepreneurs have long enjoyed the support of a well-connected and well-funded Washington venture capitalist community. While recent research by Duke and Harvard universities suggests that the average American-born entrepreneur is 39 with previous business experience, the Washington business community has noticed increasing numbers of young people forming their own companies right out of college or even during high school. The Kaufmann Foundation in Kansas City surveyed young entrepreneurs from across the country and found that 38 percent of people between the ages of 8 and 24 hope to start a business. That figure has remained unchanged from the previous survey in 2007, despite lingering effects of the recession.

Washington has built a network of support to encourage youth entrepreneurship across the state. The UW and Seattle University, in particular, have expanded and devoted more resources toward younger students in their business programs.

At the UW, the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program enrolls directly out of high school students who want to develop skills to grow a business in the future. Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, says interest among young students has never been greater.

“The group that is the most dynamic is the undergrads,” she says. “Of the students we’ve admitted, half have started their own companies in high school. We create a peer group of students who know their careers will be entrepreneurial. They don’t know what they don’t know, but they make up for that in sheer motivation and devotion.”

Riley Goodman and Jake Director are one example of this type of student. The two friends started talking about running a business in third grade and finally took the plunge their senior year of high school after one of their friends was in a car accident and they realized “anything could happen at any point.”

They designed socks with a Seattle skyline printed on