Tee Rowe of America’s SBDC: Women Entrepreneurs More Risk Averse than Men, but More Focused on Planning


Last month we posted a conversation with The Center for Generational Kinetics CEO Jason Dorsey discussing the research study they did with America’s SBDC, titled America’s Voice on Small Business.

What Differentiates Entrepreneur Millennials from Previous Generations?

To get additional perspective on the results and what they mean, I also spoke with Tee Rowe, CEO of America’s SBDC. Tee discusses how millennial entrepreneurs are different than their predecessors, and how those differences drive changes in the way organizations like America’s SBDC assist in helping them succeed.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the whole conversation click on the video/audio below.

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What Differentiates Entrepreneur Millennials from Previous Generations?Small Business Trends: So, got a chance to talk to Jason Dorsey (of Center for Generational Kinetics). He told us a little bit about the study you guys teamed up to do. I want to get your take on that, but before we do that maybe you can give me a little of your personal background.

Tee Rowe: Okay, well, I’m President of America’s SBCD, which is the association that represents Small Business Development Centers. And Small Business Development Centers, we have 63 network and a thousand centers nationwide. So all across the country, mostly at colleges and universities and chambers of commerce. And we provide free one-on-one consulting to small business owners.

Small Business Trends: Can’t beat that.

Tee Rowe: Free is a great one. That’s the best four letter word.

Small Business Trends: Yeah, exactly. So, tell us a little bit about why you wanted to do this study with Jason.

Tee Rowe: Well, we recognize our client base is always changing, so we have to modify our business model to go along with it. Who are we counseling now, how are we counseling them? And we have a lot of millennials actually coming up as business advisors at SBCD. So, we recognize, okay, we have new folks working in our system and they’re working with new folks. And we really needed to know, how do these folks think? How do they deal with business practices? We had anecdotal kind of feelings about how things were working. We looked at how all of the millennial … Like Jason said, you’d talk about millennials, and we were seeing completely different perspectives. We said, “We need to pin this down. We need to find out what they’re really thinking, what they really need, and what they really want.”

Small Business Trends: So, you had the opportunity to speak to … Or to go for this data and get some concrete information.

Tee Rowe: Yeah.

Small Business Trends: What were the most surprising things? Maybe the things that you … Were totally against what you were originally thinking?

Tee Rowe: Yeah. Well, the big thing that we pulled out of it is, 61% of millennials think that having a small business is the best form of job security. And that actually followed a trend because that shifts over generations. You’ve got Boomers, then Gen X and then Millennials and you see that that number has continually moved up and up. And Millennials want to own small businesses. They think that’s where their future lies. And more to the point, they just want a little help figuring out how to do it.



And that was the other thing that we pulled out. Three quarters of them were ready to do it if they knew where they could go to get help. And for us, that’s like, “Hey, I guess it’s time to stop being a best kept secret.”

Small Business Trends: Now that you have these findings and a better understanding of millennials and their entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations, and you know they need help.

But millennials don’t go to help the way that old folks like us do. So talk a little bit about what kind of changes you think you’re going to have to go through in order to help these folks.

Tee Rowe: Yeah, that’s the next step. And we’ve been doing this already, but putting a greater emphasis on online learning tools and a greater emphasis on learning about the different ways people are accessing capital. Because that was one of the huge things that came out was people view capital as the big barrier to starting their own small business. And at Small Business Development Centers, that’s kind of our sweet spot. Last year we helped small businesses access $4.6 billion dollars in capital. So we can help with that.

But for us, it’s learning now … And we had a panel on this in our last annual conference, online alternative financing. How does this work? What are the pitfalls? What are the advantages? Because we recognize millennials don’t necessarily want to dress up, put on a tie like me, and go to a bank. They just want to do it on their phones. And that’s fine. But what we need to do is be able to tell them, “Okay, if you’re going to do this, here’s what to look for, here’s what to look out for.” So all of that is how we’re using the study to move our resources and begin to shift our focus.

Small Business Trends: So, when you think about millennials and their aspirations, are they vastly different from a foundational perspective of what their parents and grandparents may have been?

Tee Rowe: Well, yeah, they have a more entrepreneurial mindset, a different focus. I mean, if you look back at boomers, people my age, there’s more of that “work for the same company and continue on” attitude. And that’s very different with millennials. Men and women, doesn’t matter. The only difference we find between men and women is the women are a little more risk adverse and they’re a little more focused on planning, which is great because over 45% of our clients are women. And that’s what we like to do is help people plan and make sure that they’re organized and ready.

The biggest thing about starting a small business is always making sure you’ve got a plan, making sure you know where you’re going. The hardest part we find about accessing capital is most people doing know how to talk banker, but they also don’t know exactly what they need to get started. It’s not sometimes as big a hurdle as you think, and particularly, as Jason was telling you, for millennials and the kind of businesses they run. Very low capital intensive type of businesses.

Small Business Trends: What about millennials’ expectations for entrepreneurship? How do they compare contrast to their parents/grandparents?

Tee Rowe: That was actually kind of cool and amusing, but I’ll let you … I’m going to do the same tease as Jason, and that is, you got to look at the study because you’ll be surprised what you find out. You know, Deloitte Touche did that study recently on millennials in the workplace and what they want to see and what they want to accomplish. And if you look at our study, you see a mirror in that what they want is focus and control for themselves.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series. He is a Partner at CRM Essentials and organizer of the Social Business Atlanta conference. Brent serves on the advisory board of The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence, writes the Social CRM column for Inc.com's technology site, and blogs at Brent's Social CRM Blog.

One Reaction

  1. I found this interview very interesting. The data that your found about millennials and small businesses was surprising and exciting. I appreciate your effort to help millennials start their dreams.

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