With Pitch Party participants hailing from the millennial era and Generation Z, the event is a proving ground for those who want to reverse the negative trends. And, as Nelson points out, the trends are substantial. Millennials are on track to become the least entrepreneurial generation in modern American history, with people under 30 three times less likely to own a business a generation ago.
Nelson sees several factors driving the trend: the mounting $1.5 trillion in student loan debt that saddles young Americans, inequitable distribution of venture capital, and a Generation Z whose childhood years growing up during the Great Recession of 2008 conditioned them to be more risk averse.
“We’ve created a generation that is so focused on building their resume and figuring out how they can look as polished and shiny as possible, and no one has ever told them to think outside the box, lean into risk or create something of their own,” said Nelson, who notes that too many students define success as landing a job at corporation like Google, McKinsey or Facebook.
“What VFA wants to do is to find people who think a little bit differently, who don’t want to use their career as just a pathway for getting another ‘A’,” she said. “But instead, it means using your career as a platform to create opportunity for others. As we know, business building is the best way.”
Aided by the growing Innovate Carolina campus network of programs across campus – including the Entrepreneurship Center, the Shuford Program and others – UNC-Chapel Hill has emerged as the No. 1 feeder school to VFA for the past two years.
The Pitch Party stands out as a model for fueling an upswing in entrepreneurial activity by jumpstarting student entrepreneurs who might participate in VFA or pursue ideas they care about in other ways.
“It really gave me a reason to take time that I would be spending doing homework to help develop my product because it became homework for me,” said Dan Meyers, who came to the Pitch Party to promote his idea for mushroom-made leather being a eco-friendly, cost-effective alternative to the traditional leather industry. “Through this process, I prepared a lot and got a lot more comfortable being able to talk about my product and being able to sell it to other people. So it made it much easier to give time to something that I’m passionate about.”