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The Daily Tar Heel

Generation Z brings entrepreneurship to the fore

Tech savvy. Entrepreneurial. Innovative. International. Intelligent. Self-confident. And most importantly, self-empowered.

This is Generation Z.

Beginning with this year’s senior class of college students, this generation includes those born between 1990 and 2000.

N.C. State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues focused on this new characterization of today’s youth in a forum held Monday and Tuesday.

Judith Cone, special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC-CH, attended the forum and said participants discussed how best to teach this technology-savvy generation, how to teach entrepreneurship and how the state can support students’ natural innovation after they’ve graduated.

The forum highlighted today’s difficult job market as a reason for the emergence of Generation Z’s skills, but Richard Harrill, director of Campus Y, said that is far too myopic of an assumption.

“The economic downturn is too recent to have this profound effect on a generation,” he said.

Harrill said these skills are the natural extension of the generation responsible for the dot-com explosion. Websites such as eBay and Amazon were the major companies when Generation Z was growing up, leading them to continue the same kind of innovation and ideas.

New technology and free public software has made starting a company more realistic and affordable for this generation, he said.

“It’s very common at UNC for someone to have come in who’s 18 years old and remark that they started a company when they were 14 or 15,” Harrill said. “It’s still surprising to me.”

Spearheaded by Chancellor Holden Thorp, initiatives at the University have been encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship across campus.

These include Campus Y’s social innovation incubator, 35 courses in entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, an innovation scholarship for incoming freshmen and the first introduction to entrepreneurship class starting next fall.

But the biggest initiative is the minor in entrepreneurship.

Senior Hannah Friedenberg, is one of the 100 people enrolled in the entrepreneurship minor each year.

“I think what distinguishes us is the technology and the fact that we have to innovate if we’re going to be successful,” she said.

She said she is confident that the minor will enrich her skills and be valuable to her career.

“I strongly believe that all companies would be better off if they had all people that thought like entrepreneurs,” she said.

But she said she fears for the prospects of the rest of her senior class who have not sought out entrepreneurial opportunities.

They might be unprepared for the working world because UNC has failed to involve all of its students in its focus on innovation, she said.

Students outside of the minor are also not fully supported by University Career Services.

“We don’t currently have the kind of services that further someone who wants to start their own thing,” said Gary Miller, assistant director for social media and innovation in Career Services.

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But Career Services plans to focus more on entrepreneurship this year, and this is the change Friedenberg said she hopes to see across the University.

“They’re going to have to start fostering this attitude in all their students and not just in their Morehead scholars,” she said.

“But there is hope. Definitely not for my year and maybe not for four years to come, but the freshman coming in next year, they have hope.”

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