Though the term "millennial" conjures up images of twenty-somethings with their eyes glued to their phones, this generation has a lot to offer the world. Having experienced The Great Recession of 2008, they tend to have a deep concern regarding economic opportunity.
However, despite being concerned with finances, this generation is also dedicated to living a life full of meaning. When surveyed by Barna, 87 percent of millennials said they wanted to live a life full of meaning.
Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House and expert in Millennial matters says that "when I consider millennials as a demographic, the one word that never comes to mind is “lazy." The words I use to describe millennials are “creative, considerate and confident." And indeed, there are some truly inspirational entrepreneurs in this generation who have devoted a large chunk of their young lives to making a difference, and helping to better the condition of the world. Below are just seven of those inspirational millennials.
1. Atima Lui, 27, Co-Founder and President of NUDEST
Atima Lui, the daughter of a Sudanese refugee, co-founded NUDEST, a company that enables women to embrace and love the skin they're in, no matter what the color. “The 'nude' problem is obvious," the Harvard MBA graduate explains. “Items labeled 'nude' don't match 84 percent of the population. Anyone who deviates from what the market deems is 'normal' for society is outcast."
Atima Lui. Courtesy of Naja
Thus, to solve this glaring problem, NUDEST uses NUDEMETER, a revolutionary computer technology, to help its users find the lingerie, hosiery, and footwear that matches their unique complexion. By expanding the definition of what “nude" means to encompass every skin type, this entrepreneur helps everyone love the skin they're in.
The company's mission is described as "redefining the standard of beauty to match the full range of diversity in women's skin." Atima, who grew up in Topeka, Kansas, understood from an early age that her skin tone often did not meet society's conventional standards of beauty. Thus, she decided to challenge these normative standards by redefining what the color "nude" entails.
Besides her impressive Harvard Business School degree, Atima has also had experience working in Google, YouTube, and Apple. With ample experience and wisdom under her belt, she devotes her energy to helping all women feel like they are worthy.
2. Paige McKenzie, 22, YouTube star
While many young ladies have aspirations to become famous actresses, one decided to make it happen on her own. Reaching an audience of over $7 million every month and almost $300 million to date, 22-year-old Paige McKenzie is a new kind of star.
McKenzie is the star of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, a YouTube show that she launched in 2010 when she was 16, along with her mom and business partner, who doubles as the show's writer and editor. McKenzie describes her character Sunshine as a protagonist who embraces life's twists and turns, while maintaining an upbeat attitude. “It's basically me but just a little more positive," she says, adding that a cult community has formed around the show, which is available to stream in the US, UK, Canada and the Philippines.
“We chose YouTube because at the time it wasn't a form of watching entertainment. It was this up and coming platform that was super user friendly for young audiences, who could just log on and watch for free," she says. "It was a lightbulb moment when we realized we can just upload content as opposed to waiting for a producer or director to take us on."
The idea for her show, McKenzie says, came in millennial fashion, from a simple Google search. “At the time we looked to see what was the most searched thing, and number one was Lil Wayne and number two was ghosts," laughs McKenzie, who ultimately settled on a show that she calls “horror light." “We made it very family friendly, " she says. "It's not gory, there's no swearing. It's horror for the family."
Looking to the future she says, “we are always looking to expand. We love our YouTube, but we have a TV show (the rights to her show were just purchased by the Weinstein company, who also published The Sunshine Girl family of books) in the works. We want to do a comic book, a video game, a board game, and more! We love our Sunshine universe and would love to ultimately do film as well."
“This is my full-time job and I love it," says McKenzie, who adds that despite applying to art school she was deferred, which helped her decide to focus on her show. “I decided to commit to this, to go all in and just do it, and it was scary," she admits. "I am focused on what people want next, pushing hard to make the show better."
3. Jennifer Chong, 29, Co-Founder of Linjer
The company had reached $1 million in revenue by the end of 2015. Off the back of this success, Chong decided to launch Linjer's line of luxury watches, again on Kickstarter. The pre-orders for the watches another $1 million.
The luxury goods industry isn't exactly the easiest nut to crack, but Jennifer Chong of Linjer has done so in the most audacious and unconventional way possible, shunning investors for a bold crowdfunding campaign.
With $27,000 in her back pocket and a passion to create a sturdy leather goods brand, Chong founded Linjer. Focusing on Nordic minimalism and luxurious leather for reasonable prices, Linjer launched to an excited audience back in 2014 after Chong posted her first crowdfunding campaign. The high-quality material coupled with the chic look ensured the flood of orders that came in.
Chong raised $180,000 in orders from that first campaign, a seemingly astonishing number from an industry outsider creating and building a brand via a fundraising platform. "We had no idea how many orders would come in," she says. "We couldn't have expected it. You never know with such a campaign."
The company had reached 1 million in revenue by the end of 2015, and after rolling out a collection of women's bags to wide acclaim, they launched their line of watches, which raised 1 million in revenue in a month on Kickstarter.
At just 28 years old, Jennifer is set to take in five million dollars in revenue this year. So if, like Jennifer, you've "always had an entrepreneurial itch," don't doubt, just do it.
4. Erin Bagwell, 30, filmmaker
Erin Bagwell was stuck at a corporate ad agency in New York, the victim of ongoing sexual harassment when she realized something had to change. “I love exceeding expectations," says Bagwell. “And I just felt that nobody was taking me seriously." She began dressing and behaving differently, hoping a more masculine wardrobe would dissuade the harassers, and felt lost in a corporate culture that was in no way friendly to the generation of modern women working its way through the ranks.
It was then that she began her feminist blog, Feminist Wednesday, and discovered a plethora of entrepreneurial women, whose stories inspired her enough to quit her job and begin a new project - Dream, Girl.
Erin Bagwell. Photo courtesy of The Big Leap
Bagwell's documentary would focus on spotlighting incredible female entrepreneurs and their moving stories. “I wanted the film to be something that if you're starting your first business or your third business, you could review it again and again and find inspiration." Using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filing process, Bagwell raised 100k.
Upon conclusion, Dream, Girl's first showing was in the White House, and since then has been distributed to select cinemas and organizations in the hopes of inspiring girls and women to put their first foot forward in the business world, and to never be afraid of the daunting spectre of sexism in the workplace. Bagwell's fanbase because of the message and culture Dream, Girl appropriates was broad and star-studded, with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey as two of the movie's biggest fans.
5. Lucki Starr, 19, professional dancer
While performing alongside Beyoncé and Michelle Obama sounds like the pieces from a young girl's dreams, it was just another day in the life of 19-year-old dance prodigy, Lucki Starr. Starr, who is from Bergen County, tells SWAAY that dance has always been in her life. “I've always had a passion and interest for music at a very young age," says Starr, who as a competitive dancer for the Brooklyn Nets Kids Dance Team (formerly known as the NJ Nets), made appearances at events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade and other TV shows. “It's always been my dream to become a well known singer and performer. Every since I was a kid, I've always been involved, dancing, singing, and doing talent shows." Soon, Starr was hand-selected to be a part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, which gave her the chance to meet with the former first lady, and eventually become connected to the pop queen herself, Beyoncé Knowles.
“The goal is to encourage people to get off their couches, get active and live healthy lives," says Starr. “Beyoncé and her team created a dance that you can do alongside a video tutorial. It truly inspired me because it's just amazing that someone like Michelle Obama cares that much about people. It was hard to keep my composure around her because it was so surreal. Honestly to this day, it's hard to believe I was able to be part of something so historical."
From there, Starr connected with Bey's entourage, who were in the audience at one of her shows, and had the opportunity to be featured in the campaign's corresponding music video when she was in 7th grade. “Beyoncé is an icon and it was such an awesome experience to meet her and be in the presence of her," says Starr, who named her inspirations as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, John Legend and Alicia Keys.
“It's very evident that she is super passionate about her work and she puts her all into everything that she does. It was such an awesome reminder to always better yourself."
Starr, who is planning to release a couple of singles later this year, will be performing at Winkylux's Unicorn Carnival this year during NYFW.
Looking to the future, Starr says she is working on music that will help empower and uplift young women. “I want people to feel good and not settle for less than they deserve. It's so important to know your worth and your value and that everyone is beautiful in their own natural way," she says.
6. Emily Dong, 27, CEO of Pawprint
Emily Dong is CEO of Pawprint, a mobile app for pet owners to manage their pet's medical records. It obtains records from their pet's vet, records like proof of vaccination, to provide to groomers, hotels, and more. The handy app can also set up recurring reminders for vital things like flea medication and daily walks.
Dong herself graduated from USC with a degree in accounting information systems, and was first a web developer at LearnSprout, before launching Pawprint.
"It started off as a side project," the USC grad says. "I have two dogs, and whenever I take them to the groomer, they always require proof of vaccination. This was a surprise to me, because that's not usually information you have on hand. I felt like pet owners should have access and ownership to their own pets' information."
As a female engineer, she first tried to find a developer to help her build the app, but when she couldn't she decided to take on the task herself, and coded the program.
"The thing people ask me the most is whether they need to code in order to build out the ideas they have," Dong says. "I've learned that to build a business, there are a lot of things you can validate without having to code, and it actually forces you to answer those questions earlier rather than building out a product that people may or may not use. We got lucky with our products, but we definitely could've spent time earlier validating the business model."
The app is the official medical record for over 30,000 pets, and can track the timeline of your beloved pet's events.
7. Laura Dweck, 27, and Michael Dweck, 29, Co-Founders of Basic Outfitters
Spouses Laura and Michael Dweck are co-founders of Basic Outfitters, a flagship service that lets its customers customize a full drawer of high-quality basics, including socks, underwear, t-shirts, and joggers. A unique appeal of the company is that it offers a $120-valued drawer for an affordable $60. "It's revolutionary because we are changing the way men shop for basics," Dweck proclaims. Though the service is only targeted at men at the moment, the owners are working on a women's collection for the near future.
Laura and Michael Dweck. Courtesy of WeWork
Regarding their marital relationship and how that affects their professional lives, the lovebirds seem to handle the transition with ease. "We are extremely supportive of each other and work together to make sure that our relationship and our business flourish," explains Mrs. Dweck. "Our respective backgrounds - Michael's is in operations and customer service, and mine is in fashion – compliment each other and help us manage different sides of the business."
Mrs. Dweck's background in fashion is critical for another reason – it is one of the reasons the company is able to sell their products for such an affordable price. "Having worked in the fashion industry for years, I was able to leverage my network to find the best quality products at the best price points for our customers," she reveals.
Another noteworthy aspect to Basic Outfitters is that it was featured on Shark Tank. Although the Dwecks weren't able to manage to close a deal on the show, the exposure gained from that episode gave them a remarkable boost. "Our sales grew over 1000 percent month after month after that episode aired," Mr. Dweck details. The couple also has no regrets about how they presented their business on the show. When asked what they would have done differently on Shark Tank, they said, "Not a thing. The sharks raved about our quality and were blown away by our concept. It gave us validation that we were onto something big."
Besides the helpful publicity boost, the Dwecks also learned vital lessons from being on the show. It forced them to dig deeply into every detail of their business, and to examine why they were doing the things the way they were. Another important lesson they learned was that they have to throw their hat in the ring. "The fact that the sharks loved our products and business model, and that we had offers from both Kevin O'Leary and Lori Greiner, was incredible validation for our product and business as a whole," says Mrs. Dweck.
That validation was clearly helpful – Basic Outfitters boasts a steady growth rate of 25 percent month after month, with a product return rate of less than one percent, which is well below the industry average of 15 percent. The successful millennials were also featured on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list, which can only add to their popularity.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.