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Lindsey Hively owns Poptique Gourmet Popcorn.

What do millennial startup owners need? It might not be what they think

When I read Sherry Slater's article about female entrepreneurs struggling to finance successful businesses in Indiana, my first response was frustration.

I don't usually get up in arms about gender equity. But when women-owned businesses are generating more income growth than the national average and yet are multiplying at less than half the national rate in our state, it sounds as if something is wrong with the way we're doing things in Indiana.

You've probably heard that today's 18-to-34-year-old millennials are a generation of entrepreneurs. So the first thought that came to mind was: Why would millennials come here? What are young women to do with statistics that tell them even with a winning idea, they'll have to work harder and risk more to make their dreams a reality in Indiana than they would in other states?

But when I talked with one of the millennial women featured in Slater's story, I got a different perspective. Rather than stifling startups, maybe the higher barrier to entry for female business owners in Indiana is testing their perseverance and contributing to the success of those who have what it truly takes.

Lindsey Hively, the 26-year-old owner of Poptique Gourmet Popcorn, has doubled her sales almost every year since she founded her company in 2008. She pursued one loan with a bank she didn't have a relationship with and was not approved. But she said she hasn't personally had difficulty rallying support around her startup. Actually, she said she's had private investors asking her if she needed funding almost from day one.

"I know there are plenty of people, locally and all across Indiana, with money they are willing to invest; they just need to see proof – whether it's in a knockout business plan or in a track record of success and growth before they'll be willing to lend it out," Hively said.

But for young entrepreneurs, differentiating yourself in an overcrowded market is perhaps a greater task than securing a loan regardless of gender.

A study by the Deloitte professional services firm found that more than 70 percent of 7,800 millennials surveyed plan to launch their own companies someday. Millennials are more eager than any other generation to be self-employed at a younger age, and while these statistics are inspiring in some ways, they're also frustrating for young entrepreneurs trying to stand out.

Hively thinks of it as a two-way street. On one hand, it's good that more young people want to start businesses, and it's good that Indiana is working on ways to sponsor and encourage their endeavors.

On the other hand, the market is saturated with people who have resorted to starting their own businesses when they didn't find work elsewhere or have unrealistic expectations about what it takes to be successful.

About 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail in the first 18 months, according to Bloomberg, and Hively said it takes a precise combination of personality factors, such as social skills, market insight and ingenuity, to be successful. The biggest misconception she's noticed among would-be young business owners is the idea that they can do it part-time or on the side.

"If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to go all in," she said.

It's her "all in" attitude that's helped her secure private investors, and the same attitude will likely help her find additional funding through crowdsourcing and other methods whether or not a bank gives her a loan.

"I personally haven't pursued external funding until now because I wanted to make sure I had my house in order before 'gambling' with someone else's money," Hively said.

In an overcrowded market of millennial entrepreneurs – many of whom are probably debt-ridden from college – perhaps the best option is private funding, and the difficulty of securing a bank loan as a woman is more of a moot point.

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