What I Learned from Interviewing 300 Young Entrepreneurs

September 24, 2018

By Elliot Lum

Cover art from Entrepreneurial Confessions — How Young Founders Found Their Way

After interviewing more than 300 young entrepreneurs in 24 states for my book, Entrepreneurial Confessions — How Young Founders Found Their Way, I became convinced of four things:

  1. Entrepreneurs have a notable sense of purpose in creating their companies.
  2. Entrepreneurs have a voracious appetite to learn as much as they can to prepare for uncertainty and adapt to what the market tells them.
  3. Entrepreneurs don't bend to the challenging, turbulent nature of starting up a company, despite the emotional drain.
  4. Entrepreneurs wouldn't have continued to pursue their path if they could foresee how hard the journey was.

Collectively, these conversations left a deep impression on me, which helped color my thinking about how to channel the best and brightest talent into the marketing and advertising industry when I assumed the role of designing the industry's first-ever national marketing and advertising internship program. Certainly not all students want to be entrepreneurs. However, based on research the AEF conducted last year, I saw that these students wanted to be entrepreneurial. But for a variety of reasons — whether it be a lack of funding, the inability to find a co-founder, or not enough of a belief in the idea — many don't pursue this path. They prefer to act entrepreneurially within an industry so that they can get paid to live.

When designing the MADE (Marketing and Advertising) National Summer Internship program, we established criteria such as critical thinking, leadership potential, and a diversity sensibility to help us evaluate students from all over the country. An entrepreneurial spirit was also important because what we wanted to see that a student could take an idea and deliver a result. For example, we had students who:

  • Wrote a book
  • Started a consulting business or design agency
  • Designed and launched an app
  • Sold clothes on eBay

All of the examples showcased that action was part of their core DNA. This is what the marketing and advertising industry needs: smart, motivated students who have this entrepreneurial spirit and can take an idea and turn it into something that is tangible. Talent is a key driver of industry growth, and having talent that showcases this entrepreneurial spirit by building things that nobody is building is the type of talent that we want to welcome with open arms.


Elliot Lum is the head of talent acquisition at the ANA Educational Foundation. Check out his book Entrepreneurial Confessions — How Young Founders Found Their Way, available in stores and online on Tuesday, September 25.


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