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“Most of us were law students at Georgetown and basically founded this group out of the cafeteria of our school.”

Mike: Hey everyone, I’m Mike Sullivan. This is MO.com. Joining me today is Aaron of the Young Invincibles. The Young Invincibles is a non-profit youth organization. Aaron, thanks for joining me. I appreciate it. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself.

 

Aaron: Sure. I’m from Yonkers, New York. I went to Swarthmore College. After college, I did a bunch of non-profit work. I worked for a non-profit that works with seniors in D.C. After that, I went home to New York and became a campaign manager for a state assembly race. Finally, after all that, I went to law school at Georgetown Law School, and that is where Young Invincibles got started. It was basically founded by a group of friends. Most of us were law students at Georgetown and basically founded this group out of the cafeteria of our school. We’ve been doing it ever since.

Mike: What is Young Invincibles? What is the group, and what is your focus?

Aaron: It’s a national advocacy youth group that focuses on finding ways to expand opportunity for young Americans 18 to 34. So we do that through policy in advocacy on legislation or regulations that impact young people, whether it’s on health care or student debt. We also do that through communications and sort of media work.

So, for example, we just put out a report called “State of Young America” that’s all about the economic conditions facing young adults. We did a lot of media work around that, and then the last thing I would say is we do sort of more grassroots organizing and education effort. So in health care, for example, we did an education campaign last spring that provided about 300,000 young adults with information on their health insurance options.

Those are sort of the different buckets of work, but it’s all designed to sort of make an impact on and expand economic opportunity for young people. Most recently, we’ve been doing this work on entrepreneurship, and I’m happy to talk about how we got into that and some of that work as well.

Mike: Yeah, that would be great. Let’s hear about it.

Aaron: We started doing these round tables this past summer with all different kinds of young people to try to get a sense of what were the economic challenges. We know the economy is bad for young people. We wanted to really hear from them what some of the issues were. One of the things we heard over and over and over again was this desire to start a business. Regardless of whether it was community college students in San Jose or young professionals in Richmond, Virginia, we were hearing this over and over again. At the same time, we were hearing of the barriers that the people were facing.

Excuse me one second here. Sorry.

So we were seeing these barriers that the people were facing to getting started and it made us think about: Are there things that we can do from a policy perspective to actually reduce some of those barriers and make it easier for young people to get started? I’m not just talking about your next Facebook or tech startup. I’m talking about the kid who wants to start a construction company or a pizza parlor in his neighborhood, but doesn’t know how to get started or can’t get the loan to get started, or has too much debt.

So we thought about these policy ideas, and then we started talking to other people in the entrepreneurship space. That’s how we got connected to Scott Gerber and the Young Entrepreneur Council who really became a key partner in bringing together this coalition of groups that wanted to push legislation that would make it easier for young people to start businesses.

Today, we actually did a big press conference with about seven members of Congress. It was bipartisan, which is very rare, and it was all about this idea of how can we support legislation that can make it easier for young people to start a business.

Mike: What type of impact has the organization made so far?

Aaron: We had this congressman introduce a bill that we worked with him on. Obviously, that’s the first step in passing any kind of legislation is you need a bill. Now, it’s true that in this current climate in Congress it’s going to take a lot of champions. It’s going to take people in the House and the Senate side. It’s going to take people from Democrats and Republicans to really pass something, and I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

For example, today we were talking to Senator Landrieu who is a senator from New Orleans who is the head of the Senate Small Business Committee, so really the committee in the Senate that deals exactly with these issues of entrepreneurship. She basically told us, “We want to do a bill that addresses young entrepreneurs. We want to work with you to do this bill.”

In a few months, that’s huge progress. I think the real challenge is going to be crafting a bill in a way that’s both really big and can have an impact and also can attract bipartisan support. That’s going to be key for getting it passed, obviously. The good thing about today was that at this press conference there were 100 entrepreneurs there. There were two Republicans who came and were supportive of entrepreneurship. I think it was a good step forward for us because now we have some people we can talk to, to sort of build our coalition.

Mike: What exactly is the Youth Entrepreneurship Act?

Aaron: The Youth Entrepreneurship Act is a broader concept. It’s like saying health care reform. The Youth Entrepreneurship Act contains a number of different policies that we think would be beneficial for young entrepreneurs, from more entrepreneurship education to increased access to capital to student loan forgiveness if you start a business. Those are sort of the three buckets.

The Act that was introduced, it’s H.R.2809 if you want to look it up. It has some of those things but not all of them. So it does a little bit better job of targeting loans to young people and young entrepreneurs. It increases support for some entrepreneurship education programs. So it’s a good step forward. It doesn’t do everything that we want. The way it works in Congress is that you need a lot of these little efforts that ultimately come together with something bigger.

If you go to Youth Entrepreneurship Act, you can see our campaign site where we’ve listed all of our partners, and we’ve got all kinds of partners from NFTE to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Babson College have signed onto this. You can also see a petition that we created that is a very cool feature because you can do it through Facebook and Twitter, and we recently put it up. There are hundreds of people who have already signed on board, which is great.

We’re going to be doing some major pushes over the next couple of weeks with more partners, and there are a lot of groups, whether they are campus entrepreneur groups or . . . it’s a lot of entrepreneurship education communities where there are a lot of young entrepreneurs that are part of those networks that we’re trying to engage and get to do the petition and to talk to their friends and really grow the network like that.

Mike: What’s the end goal of Young Invincibles?

Aaron: Well, I think you can always do more. I think the big first step for us would be to pass legislation through Congress to get it signed by President Obama that makes a material difference for young people who want to start a business. There are a lot of great ideas out there that I think can help young entrepreneurs, but we think there’s a real urgency.

So, I think actually passing a bill like that would, first of all, be meaningful, but it would also send a pretty good signal that actually young entrepreneurs have a lot of power that they could exercise in Washington, and if there are bigger things that young entrepreneurs want to tackle, we can do that. We can do that in this coalition type work, and by getting everyone on board, there are a lot bigger things we can tackle. But I think the first step is to really pass a bill that has an impact.

I should say there’s been a lot of media interest. That always helps. If you go on to the Youth Entrepreneurship Act, you can see this was covered by MTV, by Mashable. I believe MSNBC wrote a story. It’s gotten a lot of play because I think in the climate we’re in right now everyone is looking for ways to create jobs. You’ve got this population of young people who are entrepreneurial and innovative and willing to take risks. So, if that’s a way to create jobs, I think there’s going to be a lot of interest.

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