The class of 2019 is the last of the millennial generation to graduate from college. The youngest millennials, according to Pew Research’s definition, are those born in 1996. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed are officially venturing into the workforce (or grad programs) and also adding to the $1.5 trillion student debt balance in the U.S.
Just Sunday, the economic plight of this new class of millennials made national news when billionaire Robert Smith promised to pay off the student loans of every member of the graduating class at Morehouse College.
“That was one of the largest gifts to a university ever,” acknowledged Ankur Jain, CEO of the venture capital fund Kairos and author of an op-ed published Tuesday in Marie Claire, “Millennials are Generation Broke — Here’s How We Fix It.”
But he added, even that grand gesture “only covers 400 people’s student loan costs ... We have to fix the underlying model.”
‘An opportune and decisive moment’
Kairos, the Greek word for “an opportune and decisive moment,” has incubated and invested a collective $20 million dollars into companies focused on saving millennials money, helping chip away at costs that we accept as immutable.
The fund creates and backs startups innovating around affordability in housing, childcare, education, and healthcare. These include Rhino, which works to get rid of security deposits for rental apartments, and Little Spoon, an organic baby food delivery service.
On Tuesday, Jain told Yahoo Finance that now felt like the “right time and moment” (paying homage to the definition of Kairos) to reflect and give his peers a wakeup call and encourage them to create their own businesses to help their generation get ahead financially.
“We’re no longer kids. We need to contemplate the financial state of our generation, how we got here and what can we do about it?” Jain, 29, said. Though some may feel that pitting millennials against older generations is a tired narrative, the financial struggles of millennials are not made-up. Millennials are earning 20% less than their parents did and over 40% have zero money saved up, according to surveys from 2017.
“Older generations will take every opportunity to tell you that this economic struggle is somehow your fault, that you are ‘entitled’ or simply spending your money poorly. But the truth is, we can do everything the ‘right’ way—go to college, get a job, show up to work—yet unlike our parents or grandparents, we just can’t seem to get ahead. Where our parents could save enough for a home after just two years of renting, it takes us more than six years. And while boomers only had to work 306 hours at minimum wage to pay off a 4-year college tuition, our generation has to work 4,459 hours to do the same thing??” Jain writes in the piece.
Jain first created Kairos as a network of college entrepreneurs while he was an undergrad at UPenn Wharton. He then went on to found Humin, an app that organized your phone contacts, which he sold to Tinder in 2016. Jain served as head of product at Tinder until May 2017 until he decided to rejoin Kairos, his first passion project.
“You can’t have a strong economy without the middle class. All I’ve been doing over the last two years is building new services that are higher quality and more affordable,” he said.
“Millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation. Together we can use the same spirit of creative ingenuity to come up with real solutions to the crazy costs of living, so that they give us feelings of excitement rather than doom. Together, we can create businesses that will bring down these insane costs and provide not just our generation, but future ones as well, a path to unprecedented economic prosperity,” he writes.
Though Jain isn’t advocating for everyone to become an entrepreneur, he says that those who do set out to build their own companies can work to build products beyond “Alexa-enabled toasters.” Instead, they can tackle some of the world’s hardest problems.
Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. She hosts Breakouts, a monthly interview series for Yahoo Finance featuring up-close and intimate conversations with today’s most innovative business leaders.