The CL Intern Issue: Just do it — millennials find satisfaction in working on their passions

The media used to dismiss millennials as lazy, spoiled kids with the attention span of a goldfish. But given the success of people like Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook — both of whom made their marks well before they turned 30 — older generations are now seeing millennials as “The Entrepreneurial Generation.”

This wave of young entrepreneurial energy has hit Tampa Bay in a big way, as college students and grads start their own businesses and forge their own paths.

Reuben Pressman, 25, grew up in St. Petersburg and attended the University of South Florida. After starting a clothing line in high school, Pressman continued pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams throughout college and afterwards.

“Most projects I start are to solve problems — finding a problem, creating a solution for it and scaling it,” Pressman said. “It’s all about experimenting and seeing what works and [what] doesn’t and building up from there.”

Colleges sometimes have trouble keeping track of their students, and keeping them connected with one another and with campus activities. Once Pressman noticed this problem, he wanted to find a way to solve it. So he founded Check I’m Here.

Check I’m Here is a college campus engagement platform that allows universities to manage, track, access and engage students and organizations on campus. The University of North Florida, Saint Leo University and Ringling College of Art & Design already love the platform.

Other projects that Pressman started or co-founded include Reuben and Hunter, Project GenYes! and 1 Million Cups, just to name a few.

Pressman is also the co-founder of Swings Tampa Bay, a community-building organization that hangs handmade swings all over the Tampa Bay area.

Since the project was launched in 2010 (boosted by a grant from 10/100/1000, a project of Creative Loafing and Creative Tampa Bay), 135 swings have been hung around the area on trees, buildings, bridges and more.

“Little sparks of fun like that can change people’s day,” Pressman said. “Swings Tampa Bay is sparking curiosity, allowing people to connect more with their environment around them, which gets people out of their daily routine, and connects them more to their city and their community.”

Imani Lee, 20, is another millennial seeking to connect people with one another.

He wants to accomplish that by offering them a medium to show that their lives are Progressively Getting Better (PGB).

Lee founded PGB Apparel in 2013 to create a positive-themed brand name clothing line. PGB Apparel affirms that the wearer is progressively getting better in some way, shape or form.

His company is founded on “the principle that we want people to reflect positive progression. We want you to reflect all the good things in life that you’re going through, overcame or that you’re going to do,” Lee said. “Whether it’s in sports, fitness, health or nutrition, we want you to be that inspiration to yourself and others. What better way to reflect that than through the clothing that you wear every day?”

Lee is a junior at USF majoring in mass communications with a specialization in broadcast production. He started PGB Apparel during his freshman year of college after seeing a growing demand for positive inspiration.

For the past two years, Lee has been working to make the PGB Apparel message go viral.

He recently started a funding project which awards free promo shirts to anyone who donates to PGB Apparel. He is also working on a future Kickstarter campaign for the launch of the official PGB shirts.

While some say that starting a business on your own is too hard, Lee doesn't let that stop him.

“I get to wake up every day and do what I love most… I love planting that seed, watering it… and watching my fruits [grow] that will ultimately help other people,” Lee said. “That’s the greatest feeling that I get. Being able to say that, ‘Hey, I’m helping other people through my efforts, through this company.’”

Katelyn Edwards is also excited by the opportunity to help people.

Edwards, 21, was so passionate about cleft work and providing children with smiles that she started her own nonprofit called Smile Initiative.

“My little brother is the inspiration behind it all. He was born with a cleft [lip] and palate,” Edwards said. “I came up with Smile Initiative [and I have] become so engrossed in it… It’s like love. It doesn’t feel like work.”

In 2013, Edwards traveled to Kumasi, Ghana, and worked with a local hospital that provides free cleft surgeries.

While she was there, Edwards noticed that a limited number of facilities provided cleft medical care. She also saw that this issue wasn’t necessarily being addressed by established nonprofits.

After founding Smile Initiative in 2013, Edwards has been striving toward her goal of building a new cleft clinic in Kumasi, in hopes of making it the future cleft care capital of Africa. Smile Initiative is working with Smile Train to raise funds to build the clinic. Edwards estimates that it will cost at least $200,000.

Edwards recently hosted a silent auction for people to donate to Smile Initiative. People can also donate to the nonprofit on its website.

She also wants to establish a Smile School to provide cleft children with an education that accommodates their needs.

Edwards might have a full plate by working two jobs, running her own nonprofit and being a senior at the University of Tampa, but she refuses to stop doing what she loves.

“I love the passionate aspect that [what you’re] really doing is not work. You’re doing what you love,” Edwards said. “It’s very rare that people get passionate about something… People who do get passionate about something will start their own business about it.”

According to these three millennials, entrepreneurship boils down to the need for instant gratification, action and innovation.

Millennials are great candidates for entrepreneurial endeavors because they like to see results immediately, Edwards said:

“We’re used to when we don’t like something, we just delete it off of Facebook. It’s not so easy in a job if you’re like, ‘I don’t like this part of my job, I’ll delete it.’ But being an entrepreneur, you do get to make those type of decisions.”

“It comes down to action… Way too many people think about doing things, talk about doing things, want to do things, but don’t do it,” Pressman said. “The only way you’re going to be successful is if you do it. Stop thinking about it and… just try it out.”

More millennials are being the change they want to see in the world, instead of waiting for corporations to make these changes, Lee said.

“Our generation has access to the internet [and] to various resources that provide the necessary materials to start a corporation, company or organization,” Lee said. “With that being said, big corporations in the past have talked to us instead of talking with us. Now, our generation feels a lot more empowered to talk with each other… to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.