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Shaun MacLellan says he didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur – but he’s not surprised that’s what he ended up doing.

The 19-year-old is the founder of Toronto-based YouCollab, a startup that helps YouTube content creators find potential collaborators. “Before I really understood what entrepreneurship was, I was really interested in creating things,” he says. “My dad’s an entrepreneur, he runs his own company, and I really was intrigued by it.”

MacLellan is part of Generation Z, which has been widely recognized as those born in the mid-late 1990s and later, even though Statistics Canada officially defines it as those born between 1993 and 2011.

But don’t let this cohort’s youth undermine its ambition. If multiple studies conducted over the past few years are to be believed, this generation is more entrepreneurial than ever before. According to a U.S. study by staffing agency Randstad released earlier this year, 37 percent of Gen Z responded that they wanted to lead at a company they started, compared to 32 percent of Gen Y. In a 2015 study of both Canadian and U.S. students, staffing company Robert Half found similar trends, with a fifth of Gen Z wanting to be entrepreneurs five years out of university. For many in Gen Z, running a business according to one’s own freedom and creative potential is a big lure. Another is that, compared to today’s unstable job market, entrepreneurship can look and feel less risky than it might have a generation before.

MacLellan says that the idea of having a career he could control became a priority for him after one fruitless summer searching for work while in high school.

“I was looking for a job; I mean any job possible – I would work at McDonald’s. Hands down, you just couldn’t find one,” he says.

A couple of years later, after completing his first year at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, MacLellan decided to take a leave of absence from his degree to start his business.

(Photo: Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail)

“I can always go back to school. It’s not like the door is closed and it’s only a one-time opportunity. That’s essentially what YouCollab is at the moment,” he says.

MacLellan’s app launched in June 2016. Less than a month later, he received a $35,000 investment as part of a pitch competition at the Montreal International Startup Festival. But while he’s gotten some early recognition, it’s not always been easy. “You will get rejected 99 percent of the time,” he says. “Especially as a young entrepreneur, you may be told that you’re too young to do this, or you’re not skilled enough, or you’re not experienced enough.” Despite the hurdles, the current stresses in today’s job market mean that the appeal of forging one’s own path hasn’t waned for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking, graduating [high school], because you’re obviously not guaranteed a job and in many cases you hear a lot of stories about people who go a long time without finding a job,” says 19-year-old Simon Fraser University student Seann Gunaratnam.

Gunaratnam says he’s wanted to be an entrepreneur since high school, and in grade nine, he started an online business selling cases for phones and other electronic devices. He’s since run a student painting franchise and has now set his sights on developing an app. “I found it cool, how by starting your own business, you don’t really have an end limit. You can just keep pushing yourself, and you can also pick your industry,” he says.

(Photo: Jeremy Pollock/The Globe and Mail)

Twenty-two-year-old Calgary-based entrepreneur Kelcie Miller-Anderson agrees. At 15, she developed a way to remediate tailing ponds created by oil and gas extraction using mushrooms. Seven years later, she’s in the process of commercializing her research with her startup, MycoRemedy.

“I think I always knew that I wasn’t going to end up working for somebody else, that I would want to be doing my own thing,” Miller-Anderson says.

While she’s considered working in the oil industry, she thinks that by building her own business, she can have a bigger impact. “I really wanted to make sure that it didn’t get stuck in the lab and that [my research] did get used. And so, for me, the best way to make that happen was to start a company and get it out there myself,” she says.

Ultimately, Miller-Anderson says that while entrepreneurship is always a risk, it is absolutely worth it for some members of Gen Z. “I think as young people, this is the ideal time to be taking those risks and to try and do something new,” she says.

“As you get older, and maybe you have a family or you have other responsibilities, you’re not going to be as able to take the risk on starting something.”

This article originally appeared in the Globe & Mail in October 2016.

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