Young CEOs Turn to D.C. to Promote Entrepreneurship

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The Wall Street Journal
By: Sara Murray
July 14, 2011

About 100 young CEOs descended on the nation's capital Wednesday to encourage entrepreneurship among the country's under-30 set - and to get that group to buy their products.

Behind them was Matthew Segal co-founder and president of Our Time, a nonprofit membership organization launched this year that aims to promote economic opportunities for those under age 30. Wednesday's events rolling out of an initiative called Buy Young were a far cry from Mr. Segal's Washington debut in 2009 when he essentially sought government handouts to help solve problems faced by young adults.

The CEOs lunched with members of Congress and met with White House officials. The events were less about lobbying and "more of a public relations use," as well as providing networking opportunities for the group's members, Mr. Segal said.

In 2009, Mr. Segal launched 80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs, and gathered a group on Capitol Hill to talk about college debts and troubles finding jobs. Their goal was improve the economic fortunes of those under 30, and they were relying on Congress to do it. Their asks included free college tuition for low-income students in exchange for volunteer work and micro loans set aside for young people through the Small Business Act. After four months, 80 Million Strong it disbanded in August 2009.

"There is no success like failure," Mr. Segal said in a recent interview.

The emphasis now is on entrepreneurship. Mr. Segal wants to leverage his generation's consumerist habits to help one another out.

"Every single corporation wants us as consumers," Mr. Segal said. "How can we take that consumerism and channel it in a way that helps grow the economy?"

That's where Buy Young comes in. Those who sign up on Our Time's site can get discounts (at retailers like Rent the Runway (it rents designer gowns and has experienced its own set of growing pains) and Idea Paint (its paint turns walls into dry erase boards), all founded by entrepreneurs under the age of 30. The promotion ends next month.

The goal is to support young entrepreneurs, boost the economy and help those young bosses increase their hiring. But it's partly self-preservation for Our Time, too. By offering more member benefits, Mr. Segal hopes to keep the group growing. His ideal vision is something along the lines of the AARP, the powerful seniors lobby, for a younger generation.

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