Making money and a difference
Published: Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.
There are public figures in every era who convince young people that a certain profession holds the power to change the world.
A number of elected officials who came of age during John F. Kennedy's presidency cite him as their inspiration for entering public service. The example of Woodward and Bernstein filled newsrooms with people who believe journalism is the best way to have an influence.
Given diminished public opinion of politicians and shrinking opportunities for reporters, it's no surprise that many of today's students are choosing different career paths. One of their role models is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The 2010 movie "The Social Network" showed that a few students in their dorm rooms can start a company that becomes a worldwide phenomenon.
The University of Florida and its students have embraced the potential of startup companies. An example can be seen in some recent UF Student Government presidents. While SG has traditionally been career training for state politics, recent presidents Jordan Johnson, Ashton Charles and TJ Villamil have started their careers in startups.
Johnson began at General Electric before leaving to help start a mobile app company at UF's Innovation Hub. Charles went to Spain after graduating to work at a technology company connecting talented people and employers.
Villamil is cofounder of Gulejo, a Gainesville coffee roaster and distributor. The company is housed in Starter Space, a business incubator in the old Firestone building on West University Avenue.
It's tempting for a curmudgeon like me to dismiss startup fever as a sign that young people today care more about making money than making a difference.
After having a cup of coffee with Villamil last week, it's more clear to me that it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.
Villamil said Gulejo embraces the concept of social entrepreneurship, a concept gaining currency locally through the work of UF faculty member Kristin Joos.
The idea has been described as entrepreneurship carried out for a societal benefit. Examples include Toms Shoes giving away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that the company sells.
Gulejo promises a percentage of profits to worthy causes. Villamil said the company gets coffee from Nicaragua, so it will fund UF medical mission trips there. It also is committed to ethically sourced coffee, he said, through direct trade with farmers to ensure they're fairly paid.
The journalist in me is skeptical of the capacity of businesses infused with a profit motive to do good. But as Villamil acknowledges, doing good also is good for business.
His generation is more aware of a company's business practices through social networking and online reviews. And research suggests Millennials are more likely to buy products from companies with a social component.
So for anyone depressed that Mark Zuckerberg is this generation's JFK, all is not lost. Young people today still care about making a difference, they just have a different view of the best way to change the world.
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