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Friday, 23 October 2015 12:48

Opportunities growing for young entrepreneurs

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Stephen and Cameron Pickering co-own Drywater Productions in Janesville. Being young business owners requires a passion for the work, a willingness to get involved in the community and plenty of hard work, among other things, the couple said. Stephen and Cameron Pickering co-own Drywater Productions in Janesville. Being young business owners requires a passion for the work, a willingness to get involved in the community and plenty of hard work, among other things, the couple said. Terry Mayer/staff

MESSENGER -- More resources means more opportunities, and that means more young people are starting their own businesses.

Young entrepreneurs are getting their feet wet at "break-neck speed," according to David Gee of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Gee is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and the co-director of the UW-Whitewater Launch Pad program, which helps people under 30 start a business.

"There’s more courses being offered at the university level. There’s more faculty and staff that have experience with operating a business who are willing to help," Gee said. "There’s more clinics and centers that are available to assist young entrepreneurs. There’s more software available and more law firms and accounting firms that are willing to offer their services pro bono …

"It’s never been a better time to launch a start-up because of the resources available. There’s also innovation centers that help people obtain office space. They also provide training and counseling."

A younger person starting his own business is looked upon more favorably now than in the past, Gee said.

"It’s now more prestigious to be considered a young entrepreneur," he said. "In the past if you started a business, you were looked at doing it because you couldn’t find a job elsewhere."

Cameron Pickering wasn’t planning on working in video production after she graduated from college with a history degree. However, Cameron, 30, and her husband, Stephen, are making a living as co-owners of Drywater Productions in Janesville.

"I didn’t have a goal of doing this, but I sat and watched (Stephen) editing when we were dating," Cameron said. "After we were married, we had a family wedding video that we were editing, and I kept trying to provide my input. I eventually said, ‘Move over and teach me how to do this,’ and from there I taught myself."

The couple produces documentaries, promotional videos, web videos, how-to videos, media campaigns, training videos and public service announcements for corporate and commercial clients in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Some of the couple’s more recent projects include a public service announcement for Rock County’s Text to 911 program, a documentary on the VetsRoll program, videos for the Mercy Health System and documentaries for the Rock County Historical Society.

Stephen’s goal is to eventually produce feature films.

"Until then, we’re doing the commercial and corporate work that pays the bills," he said. "I’ve had a few people that have told me that it’s not possible to get into feature filmmaking and strongly discouraged it. I’ve had a few people, like Cameron and my parents, who told me to go for it."

That unwavering spirit is a strength of many young entrepreneurs, Gee said.

"They tend to go through more barriers. A more experienced entrepreneur who has hit some brick walls may become more cynical," Gee said. "A younger entrepreneur may see it as a goal, and they charge toward that goal. They are more restless and try to achieve their goals. There’s more of a lack of perception of boundaries for what they can accomplish."

However, there are several challenges that young business owners face, Gee said.

"Usually, they have a full-time job to have an income to pay bills and the business on the side," Gee said. "They don’t have the capital for the start-up or the start-up won’t create enough revenue to have a living wage."

Many young entrepreneurs juggle their time between operating a business and attending college, he said.

"I had a student last semester who was carrying 18 credit hours and working 50 hours a week operating a business," Gee said. "It was an improbable task. It’s a challenge to balance college and a start-up business. We encourage people to concentrate on their academics first. Start-ups come and go."

Like any entrepreneurs, the Pickerings have seen their share of ups and downs in business.

They started Drywater Productions in 2005 doing videography work for weddings but became involved with the business more full time in 2011.

"I quit my paying job and started making a living doing this," Stephen said.

Cameron said the business has received positive feedback from clients.

"We’ve been told by some people that they’re jealous of our job because Stephen is his own boss, and we can be as creative as we want," Cameron said. "Working full time underneath someone is different than working for yourself, and (Stephen) is doing something that he loves and getting paid for it. So, it is his passion, but it does take a lot of work."

Stephen agreed, saying, "Owning your own business isn’t always a glamorous thing where you can take vacations anytime you want. We can stop working anytime we want as long as we stay up the next night."

And their work doesn’t stop when the computers are shut down.

Besides operating a business, the Pickerings are busy raising four children.

"We’ve also added four kids on top (of owning a business), that along with a house that we’re remodeling," Cameron said.

Stephen said the business ran into some difficult times several years ago.

"Our business had dried up completely, and even the clients we had lined up just bailed out, so we were down to zero," Stephen said. "Our emergency funds were completely depleted. I ended up taking a job at UPS for Christmas and made very little money. (Cameron) took a part-time job. We weren’t picky. Whatever job we could get, we took ...

"More people started getting interested again, and we joined networking groups and Forward Janesville, then business started picking up and we rebounded."

Community involvement is key to operating a successful business, Cameron said.

"Talk to other businesses, so that way you have a realistic idea of what you’re going to be getting yourself into," Cameron said. "You have to keep learning. Especially with the Janesville community, get involved. If you want your business to succeed within your community, you need to go the extra mile and get involved, volunteer and get your name out there."

Building positive relationships takes time, but it pays off, Stephen said.

"We’ve got good relationships with other people in the community, and I think that’s been really helpful for us," he said.

Research also is key for anyone who’s thinking about starting a business.

Gee said before starting a business people should make sure they have a product or service that other people want or need.

"You ... want to make sure that people are willing to open up their wallets to pay for your product or service," Gee said. "Start cautiously. If someone has a problem, make sure you have that product or service that can address that problem."

Jennifer Wilcenski, owner of Rockwell Salon in Elkhorn, started her business about five months ago after working in a salon for eight years. She also rents chair space to other stylists.

"It got to the point where I wanted to branch out on my own," said Wilcenski, who turned 30 in May. "I also wanted to have a place where other girls can come in and have a place of their own, as well."

She said working at a salon for eight years gave her the knowledge to start her own business.

"I knew the industry, so I knew what worked and didn’t work. I knew what I wanted to do," Wilcenski said.

"I advise people to do their research," Wilcenski said. "I researched it for months. I researched which purchases I wanted to make. I was on the computer looking at stuff all the time. I knew what I needed to do before I jumped into it."

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