OMAHA—Julian Young had a rough path.
At 8 years old he saw his first bag of drugs. His family dealt drugs, he says.
And he grew a sizable drug trade himself by the time he was 17.
“I was locating a niche market, doing everything from customer development to product expansion,” Young told the crowd a 1 Million Cups in Omaha Wednesday. “We did it all.”
And then, a mentor came into his life and told him he was an entrepreneur, but using it in the wrong way. He’d heard the word before, but never quite understood what it meant, he said.
“I didn’t understand that being an entrepreneur can empower a person, a single mother, a community and a city,” he said.
Young got out of drugs. He went back to school, screwed up, sold more drugs, flunked out before getting another chance. The Omaha World-Herald’s Erin Grace tells his story beautifully in a March profile, back when he was on the path to starting his own church.
He’s evolved since then, taking a path to help underserved and disadvantaged people in parts of Omaha.
How? By empowering them through entrepreneurship.
Earlier this year, he began the Start Center for Entrepreneurship, an 11-week program to help develop entrepreneurs in a good way.
There, students get talent development, mentorship from experienced business owners, early-stage business development lessons and other kinds of training to change their mindset.
Young, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, writing books, delivering inspirational talks, blogging often, said he never had a place to go when he was young to get real development in an entrepreneurial skill set.
“I didn’t understand what a startup business even was,” he said.
Many who come to him, whether through word of mouth, social media, or handpicking, don’t either.
It’s statistically evident, too, he says: minorities only make up 7 percent of businesses despite making up 14 percent of the population. And Omaha minority business ownership is below the national average.
“This needs to be a long-term solution for economic sustainability in an underserved community of Omaha,” he said. “Omaha is expanding and it’s a great time to be here, but it’s a different narrative in challenging areas in Omaha. Small businesses are struggling to keep doors open there.”
Young argues talent is abundant in those neighborhoods—unlikely and unsuspecting entrepreneurs—but pulling them out and giving them access to resources and guidance is the biggest problem.
“They are entrepreneurial underdogs,” Young said. ” They are so talented, so creative underneath the rubble of these communities. We need to cultivate it.”
The first class of about 20 entrepreneurs, ranging from cupcake bakers to home energy efficiency consultants to wedding planning to digital marketers, finishes up next week. The demographics vary from people in their 20s to people in their 50s.
But metrics of success vary, Young says.
For some it’s gaining customers, creating a website and establishing a social media presence. For others, it’s just helping them establish a clear business idea and model so they can start.
“We like to see where they were and how far they’ve come,” Young said. “For us, it’s just showing them different ways that their discipline, their actions and inactions have a direct impact on their results.”
Start Center’s website is still under construction, but you can contact Young on Twitter.