Starting out in business
WHITEWATER — More resources means more opportunities and that means more young people are starting their own businesses.
Young entrepreneurs are getting their feet wet at “break-neck speed,” according to David Gee of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Gee is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and the co-director of the UW-Whitewater Launch Pad program, which helps people under 30 start a business.
“There's more courses being offered at the university level. There's more faculty and staff that have experience with operating a business who are willing to help,” Gee said. “There's more clinics and centers that are available to assist young entrepreneurs. There's more software available, and more law firms and accounting firms that are willing to offer their services pro bono …
“It's never been a better time to launch a start-up because of the resources available. There's also innovation centers that help people obtain office space. They also provide training and counseling.”
A younger person starting his own business is looked upon more favorably now than in the past, Gee said.
“It's now more prestigious to be considered a young entrepreneur,” he said. “In the past if you started a business, you were looked at doing it because you couldn't find a job elsewhere.”
Kurt Hintz, owner of Mac's Moving & Storage in Lake Geneva, started his business when he was 24 years old after receiving encouragement from a Walworth County sheriff's deputy.
“My family's business worked with the Walworth County Sheriff's Office to assist with evictions. We would store items for the county and the landlords. The sheriff's department would contact us if they needed us for storage,” said Hintz, now 27. “One of the deputies asked us if we thought of doing the moving portion as well, and I thought, 'Maybe I should.' I thought there was a need for a premier moving service in the area. I wanted to have clean-cut, sincere movers. That's our niche.”
Mac's Moving & Storage offers residential and commercial moving services. Hintz said his business has grown steadily during the past few years.
“It's growing basically. The housing market has improved the past few years, so people are moving,” Hintz said. “We used to assist with evictions at least once a month, and we haven't done one in about a year. That's a good sign that the housing market is improving.”
Jennifer Wilcenski, owner of Rockwell Salon in Elkhorn, started her business about five months ago after working in a salon for eight years. She also rents chair space to other stylists.
“It got to the point where I wanted to branch out on my own,” said Wilcenski, who turned 30 in May. “I also wanted to have a place where other girls can come in and have a place of their own, as well.”
Her business has received a positive response so far, she said.
“It's been great. I've been very busy. It's probably the busiest I've been in my entire career,” Wilcenski said. “My chair is always full. The other (stylists') chairs have been busy, as well.”
Wilcenski said she has enjoyed the freedom of operating her own business.
“I like the freedom of creating my own schedule,” Wilcenski said. “I like having a place that's mine. There's a lot more freedom.”
It doesn't hurt that younger entrepreneurs also have plenty of ambition, Gee said.
“(College) students have boundless energy. They tend to go through more barriers,” Gee said. “A more experienced entrepreneur who has hit some brick walls may become more cynical.
“A younger entrepreneur may see it as a goal, and they charge toward that goal. They are more restless and try to achieve their goals. There's more of a lack of perception of boundaries for what they can accomplish.”
However, there are several challenges that young business owners face, Gee said.
“Usually, they have a full-time job to have an income to pay bills and the business on the side,” Gee said. “They don't have the capital for the start-up or the start-up won't create enough revenue to have a living wage.”
Many young entrepreneurs juggle their time between operating a business and attending college, he said.
“I had a student last semester who was carrying 18 credit hours and working 50 hours a week operating a business,” Gee said. “It was an improbable task. It's a challenge to balance college and a start-up business. We encourage people to concentrate on their academics first. Start-ups come and go.”
Hintz said the biggest challenge he's faced is keeping good employees.
“Because we raise the bar so high, one of the biggest challenges is finding employees,” Hintz said. “We want to have employees that are hands-on, reliable and dependable. We want quality movers that are going to put in the extra effort.”
Hintz said he mostly started the business himself but received a grant to purchase some moving vehicles.
“That was very helpful to us in helping the business grow,” he said.
Wilcenski said her main challenge has been finding stylists to rent space at her salon.
“Another challenge is letting people know I'm here, but we're getting there,” Wilcenski said.
She said working at a salon for eight years gave her the knowledge to start her own business.
“I knew the industry, so I knew what worked and didn't work. I knew what I wanted to do,” Wilcenski said. “I received a lot of support from my clients and family.”
Hintz advises young entrepreneurs to put as much time as possible into their business.
“You've got to live the business. You can't cut the business short,” Hintz said. “The business comes first, sometimes before family, and that's not easy. You have to be consistent. Your reputation is important.
“The business can't be part time. It's something that's got to consume your life if you want to be successful. I've put everything I have into this business.”
Wilcenski said she advises people to become familiar with the industry before starting their own business.
“I advise people to do their research,” Wilcenski said. “I researched it for months. I researched which purchases I wanted to make. I was on the computer looking at stuff all the time. I knew what I needed to do before I jumped into it.”
Gee said before starting a business people should make sure they have a product or service that other people want or need.
“Start cautiously. If someone has a problem, make sure you have that product or service that can address that problem,” Gee said. “You also want to make sure that people are willing to open up their wallets to pay for your product or service.”