They’re Under 30. They Probably Can.

10/24/11

It’s getting tiring to hear that the United States can’t. Can’t innovate anymore. Can’t create jobs. But if you look around Massachusetts I think you’ll come to the conclusion that if anyone can, it’s probably people under 30 (plus or minus).

I’m sitting in an old mill building in Holyoke. There are almost 100,000 students centered up and down the Connecticut River Valley. There’s a conference going on called Idea Mill on entrepreneurship and innovation. Brendan Ciecko, Ben Einstein, and his friends who created this event believe they can catalyze a reinvention of this place. They’re under 30. They probably can.

On October 24 MassChallenge, the globally encompassing, Massachusetts-centric $1 million startup competition and accelerator will have its final event. If you look around the room that night you’ll see hundreds of young entrepreneurs who believe they can do a startup in Massachusetts and create jobs and innovation.

My organization, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, is thrilled that three of the MassChallenge finalists are ventures started with our grants.

Therapeutic Systems is working to shift the daily experience of people with autism with its sophisticated but discrete pressure vest that provides a “hug-like” sensation to the wearer. Brian Mullen believes he can not only make a cash positive business but get through the medical reimbursement process as a young entrepreneur and manufacture the product in Massachusetts. He’s under 30. He probably can.

SmarterShade is developing a product to electronically darken a window with the flip of a switch. Will McLeod has never moved an innovative product from prototype to manufacturing to product. But he’s under 30. He probably can.

Finally, Sanergy thinks they can transform the sanitation system in extremely poor neighborhoods in Kenya and throughout the world. They’ve got one of their pay toilets in operation. In a week or so they’ll have 10 times that. By early next year hopefully 10 times that. Can David Auerbach and his young team create a profitable global business based on people paying a few cents per use? They probably can.

Those of us who can no longer even fake that we’re young have increasingly despaired for the trajectory of this country in recent years. Who’s going to create the jobs and the Next Big Thing? Show up at an event like Idea Mill or MassChallenge and you’ll quickly run into the people who can.

Joseph Steig directs VentureWell for NCIIA and is also CFO of Long River Ventures. Follow @

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