How One Entrepreneur Is Trying to Fix Young America

Scott Gerber wants to spread the message that youth unemployment is an opportunity to innovate, not an epidemic.
Business Writers
March 07, 2012

What’s wrong with young American workers?

Nothing, says Scott Gerber, and he wants to get the word out.

Gerber and the nonprofit he launched two years ago, Young Entrepreneur Council, Monday launched a campaign to raise money to print "#FixYoungAmerica," a compilation of essays written by nonprofit founders, philanthropists, educators and entrepreneurs to show that entrepreneurship “is creating the new means of employment,’’ Gerber says in an interview. He wants the media and politicians to read dozens of ideas that are helping 20-to-30-somethings, recent grads, young veterans and other folks who are unemployed or under-employed get to work.

"I believe youth unemployment is an opportunity, not just a catastrophic epidemic," says Gerber, who started his first business as a student at New York University. “The jobs of yesteryear are not coming back. If we don’t find ways to innovate on hyper-local levels, I believe we are going to become a lost generation, and I don’t believe we have to.’’

Gerber says he hit on the book idea when he heard what to him was yet another media report bemoaning youth unemployment. January’s national jobless rate was 8.3 percent. The rate of teens seeking work, though, is one of the highest and most persistent categories, 23.2 percent in January.

Gerber thought: “Let’s compile a book, and create an open forum where these ideas can be spread and shared with everybody,’’ says Gerber, 28. “Our goal as a campaign is to get these ideas in the hands of every politician and leader in the youth movement.’’ With it, Gerber hopes to spark a Congressional hearing on helping young entrepreneurs and a round-table meeting with President Obama.

The book is the first imprint of the Young Entrepreneur Council, a membership nonprofit that strives to mentor the next creators of Google and Yelp. In October the council launched Gen Y Fund, a $10 million early stage venture accelerator fueled with private money.

The book includes insights from the president of Babson College who has created a blueprint for how colleges can teach students to be entrepreneurs. Another essay describes how entrepreneurs have transformed a distressed area of New Orleans to create a location for startups. Another essay features the work of Codeacademy, which runs a free coding program to teach youth how to create Web applications.

The campaign also wants leaders to adopt what Gerber says are solutions to youth unemployment, including student loan forgiveness for young entrepreneurs; passing a federal crowdfunding bill that will allow startups to raise $2 million without filing issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission; and new “silicon valleys’’ throughout the U.S.

The campaign also supports opportunities that would provide veterans with money to buy business franchises. The unemployment rate for veterans who served at some point in the military since September 2001 was 9 percent in January, but it was nearly double that, 17.3 percent, among recent female vets.

"Everybody wants to support entrepreneurs, but nobody pushes it as a viable career path," Gerber says. “How does it happen? We need a total cultural paradigm shift.’’

Gerber’s group has begun a crowdfunding campaign to raise $30,000 to get the book into the hands of politicians and leaders. Donations can be placed through Indiegogo.com/fixyoungamerica.

Photo credit: Courtesy the Young Entrepreneur Council

Business Writers