If anything is going to jump start America, it may just be the new generation of entrepreneurs.

I say that because I just spent time in Kansas City as a speaker and mentor at the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit 2011, hosted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and organized by the Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability (YES) and Conscious Capitalism Institute (CCI).

The group uses a quotation from Victor Hugo to set the context for their aspirations:

A day will come when there will be no

battlefields, but markets opening to

commerce and minds opening to ideas.

It’s quite the motto to be guided by.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Summit makes it abundantly clear that a fever is spreading through this generation. They’re passionate about business as an agent of change, recognize that business as usual has left them with a planet of diminished resilience, and will do whatever it takes to create a new paradigm for the role of business in our society.

All under the age of 35 years old, they are bright lights in an America that keeps finding reasons for a fundamental shift towards responsibility, sustainability and greater equity.

A notable aspect of the summit was Whole Foods’ commitment to sell and merchandize products developed by the young social entrepreneurs in special sections of stores in the brand’s North-Atlantic region. It was just one example of how the summit takes a holistic approach to developing the capabilities of young entrepreneurs by partnering them with mentors, funders and retailers.

Significant attention was also placed on the development of co-working spaces now numbering over 1,600 worldwide that function as incubation centers where early stage businesses can share working space to elevate the possibilities for collaboration, the sharing of resources and skills, and peer-to-peer mentoring. Green Spaces is one of the most exciting co-working centers right now, located in New York City.

Though I was inspired by all the social enterprises represented, a few stood out:

  • Runa, a tea and beverage company that works with indigenous people to share the secrets of the Amazon by creating new markets for products they produce (www.runa.org).
  • Susty Party, which enables people to embrace sustainability with bio-based party products (www.SustyParty.com).
  • Ginger + Liz Colour Collection, a vegan-friendly, non-toxic line of nail polish (www.gingerandliz.com).

Please let me know what you think of these young entrepreneurs in the comments section below. Who are some young social entrepreneurs that inspire you?

In a follow-up post I’ll review Whole Foods founder John Mackey’s keynote address. 

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