Julian Young first saw a bag of drugs being sold when he was 8 years old in North Omaha, Nebraska – a truth that would go on to define his life and career in more ways than one.
“As a very young man, I [didn’t] understand why my community didn’t feel like the western communities, the suburban communities,” Young said. Entrepreneur. “I didn’t understand why our streets and our schools weren’t so beautiful. I didn’t understand how the economy worked in that regard.”
As a teenager, Young had an entrepreneurial spirit. But school didn’t seem like a place for him to use it, he says. So, at the age of 16, he was selling drugs and he finally found himself facing more than 15 years in prison.
“I had an ultimatum,” Young recalled. “I could turn my life around, or I could continue on the road that I was on and eventually end up spending a large part of my life in prison. And I didn’t want that.”
Fortunately, Young had a mentor in one of his professors at Wayne State College who believed he was an entrepreneur and told him so. Young had no idea what that term meant at the time, but with encouragement from his mentor, he began to learn more and launched his journey to co-found several powerful social impact initiatives.
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“I wanted to use entrepreneurship to harness this talent that is overlooked and underdeveloped – because that’s my story.”
Young joined a student business organization known as SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) and became president of his college’s chapter. Now called Enactus, the organization is an international social entrepreneurship project that aims to create change in communities.
“I had the opportunity to be exposed to other CEOs, business owners, people who had started and grown successful multi-million, billion-dollar businesses,” Young said.
Young began to see himself in their place – and it changed his life.
“I wanted to use entrepreneurship not only to help people who had already started businesses and were in the process of growing a business, but also to tap into that talent that is overlooked and underdeveloped – because that’s my story” , explains Young.
In the beginning, this meant encouraging people to dream, regardless of their economic status or background. “No one is ever too poor to dream,” says Young. “No one – everyone can afford a dream.” He made sure people knew their dreams were precious, with the potential to solve real problems and change lives in the process.
Young and his wife Brittany co-founded a non-profit organization, originally known as The Start Center for Entrepreneurship, in 2012. The goal was to teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship to aspiring small business owners owned by minorities. But Young struggled to gain substantial traction for his business. He knew he needed help, so he started asking for it.
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“He was integral to what we do, and he is my mentor to this day.”
One of Young’s first contacts was Don Eckles, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Omaha-based franchise Scooter’s Coffee. Eckles and Scooter’s invested $500,000 to open a cafe in a former bank building in North Omaha; it also served as a space for programming the boot center.
Another mentor to whom Young owes his success? Tom Osborne, former head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and founder of the TeamMates mentorship program. Young tried to arrange a meeting with Osborne for almost two years, but he finally caught up with him in 2014 – at an airport before Osborne left the country for two weeks.
“I shared with him my vision of what I wanted to do through entrepreneurship and how I wanted to impact my community, the world, and the black community,” Young recalled. “And he loved it.”
Osborne helped Young build his idea and guided him to hone his passion for maximum results.
“If he didn’t help me, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Young said. “He disagrees; he says I would have understood, but I think it’s just the humility in him. I know he’s been a huge part of what we’re doing, and he is my mentor to this day. I spend time with him; I pass my ideas in front of him. And he takes the time to see where we are at, uses his network, guidance and mentorship to continue to help us grow and to build what we do.
Today it looks like a new image of The Start Center, now known as the Julian and Brittany Young Foundation. The reason for the change is simple, says Young: Although the organization started out as a place, with leases in different spaces, it has since evolved into an idea. Now, when people call for information about their programs, they ask for Young and his wife by name.
“Unknowingly, we became the brand,” says Young. “We became the name people trusted in our community – and not just in our community: we receive applications and registrations from entrepreneurs across the country and abroad.”
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“We help so many entrepreneurs not only start but also grow businesses.”
The Julian and Brittany Young Foundation will still offer courses in entrepreneurship through its program called Start, but it will also go deeper into advocacy, working to shape policy and educate elected officials about the unique challenges. faced by minority-owned small businesses. The foundation will also offer grants to small business owners as it expands.
The Youngs established the Small Business Resiliency and Recovery Plan, formerly known as the Urban Wealth Initiative, to help give minority and Black-owned businesses the resources and education they need to go as far as possible.
Essentially, the foundation operates with a “one-two-shot” approach, Young says. The not-for-profit arm helps young entrepreneurs start their business and is complemented by the for-profit arm, Julian Young Advisors, which offers more advanced paths to growth.
“This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs who want the next level of service in terms of a paid advisor, consultant, someone to work with them through a longer tenure and process in their business “, says Young. “And they’re looking for a lot of those wraparound services that are needed to grow and become sustainable.”
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For many hopeful entrepreneurs, now is the time. The pandemic and the Great Resignation have driven aspiring business owners to act like never before. In fact, the Young’s client base doubled during this tumultuous time, on both the nonprofit and for-profit side.
“[It’s] extremely well,” Young said. “We help so many entrepreneurs not only start but also grow businesses, and many of them are moving to their second business location. We’re seeing entrepreneurs being able to buy their first home and start investing in real estate, and it’s all coming from a business they started – the ripple impact is so incredible.”
Over the years, Young has realized just how powerful this ripple effect can be. It’s a lesson that goes back to an invaluable piece of advice his grandfather once gave him: The most important thing you can have is your peace, but you can’t be a person of peace if you don’t have no patience.
“If it wasn’t for that [advice], I would have tried to keep pushing doors when it wasn’t time to walk through those doors,” Young says. And I would have given up when I thought it was time to give up. Patience has not always been a pleasant teacher, but she has certainly been the most successful teacher I have had.”