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Business Owners Young and Motivated

September 23, 2018

The owners of Curious Escape Rooms, Audrey and Jeremy Pendleton-Chow, talk about their business in Fitchburg. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

Brendan Aylward does not consider himself a millennial.

Though 25 years old and born in the heart of the generational age range spanning the early 1980s to the late 1990s, he doesn’t see himself conforming to the often-negative stereotypes put on today’s young adults.

“It doesn’t just mean someone who only tips half or drinks expensive coffee,” he said. “That’s not who I associate with.”

The people Aylward most frequently associates with are his clients. He’s the owner of Unified Health & Performance, a Lancaster-based gym he’s built from the ground up that now has over 300 regular customers.

The business started when he was just 23.

“I’m sure there are some people who might hear that and think, ‘He can’t help me, he doesn’t know enough,’ but I know that my every waking hour is dedicated to this for me,” said Aylward. “I’m listening to audiobooks every minute I’m not here. I’m reading research studies. It’s just the work ethic I’ve always had, even in college. When my friends were out, I was at home studying.”

Members of Aylward’s generation have had a curious relationship with the business world, according to the many various studies that have been done on them.

A 2014 study by Bentley University found roughly 67 percent of millennials surveyed said their career goals involve starting their own business, but a study by the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2016 claimed “entrepreneurship is lower among Millennials than among prior generations” because less than 2 percent report self-employment, compared to 7.6 percent of Generation X and 8.3 percent of baby boomers.

Regardless of what study you choose to believe, or what stereotype you think holds true, Aylward has succeeded in his pursuits and he’s not the only one in the northern Worcester County area to do so.

Like Unified Health & Performance, Curious Escape Rooms of Fitchburg opened two years ago under the guidance of two younger owners and has continued to attract new customers. For those unfamiliar with the idea of an escape room, groups of people pay to be locked in a themed room and have to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape in a certain amount of time.

Audrey and Jeremy Pendleton-Chow were both in their late 20s when they set up shop on Main Street and are now considering finding more space so they can expand.

“I think people underestimated how prepared we actually were for this. I think my other hurdle is that people look at me and think I’m in high school,” joked Audrey Pendleton-Chow.

Like Aylward, Pendleton-Chow and her husband both look at their age as more of an asset than a burden. It made designing one of their escape rooms, which is the spitting image of a late-90s video rental store and was inspired by the Pendleton-Chow’s childhoods, a lot easier. It’s also made them more open to newer resources available to start-ups, like online fundraising.

“I’m a very anti-debt person so we didn’t get any loans for our business,” said Audrey Pendleton-Chow. “We did do a kickstarter, which was really just seed money for us, but it also kind of gave us the kick in the butt we needed, knowing people want us to do this and now we have to deliver.”

Familiarization with online resources and current technology is one of the biggest things North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce President Roy Nascimento said the Millennial generation of business owners has going for it.

“They have tremendous technology skills they bring to the table because they grew up using it. We ask our staff that works on the development corp. side of things and they say our younger clients tend to be better prepared and usually have gone online and done a tremendous amount of research before coming in,” he said.

The chamber offers several networking and mentorship programs to young professionals under the age of 40 like HYPE and CEO Unplugged. Though the chamber does not track the ages of local business owners, Nascimento said its programs geared toward younger participants are continuously attracting the attention of local residents.

Younger entrepreneurs are also directly reaching out to people their own age for help.

“We have a lot of friends that have come and talked to us about business advice. I find it surprising that so many of my friends are starting something,” said Pendleton-Chow. “It’s usually less brick-and-mortar stuff, but everyone has a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit.”

This is something that Caleb Rivera, the 24-year-old owner of the Leominster barbershop Clippers & Co., has also noticed as people have also looked to him to impart wisdom.

“The only thing I tell people is they have to make sure everything gets organized once they figure out what they want to do. They have to look at their long-term goal as a whole bunch of short-term goals,” he said.

Rivera, who opened this spring with a brother and a friend as business partners, said his clientele covers all ages, but he said he does make an effort to market to younger customers.

“You come into the shop and I think I have things set up a certain way that help promote us on social media. I have a banner on the wall and most people like to take a picture of it for Snapchat or their Instagram story and post it,” he said.

Rivera also has a waiting area where customers can play Fortnite, the online video game that has morphed into a cultural phenomenon over the last year.

“I wanted to have something so that little kids waiting around would have something to do, but my barbers play it all the time, too,” said Rivera.

None of the business owners were particularly fond of being thought of as a millennial. However, all of them seem too focused on their businesses to give it much thought.

Aylward said there is a stereotype that he is trying to break, but it has nothing to do with him personally.

Apart from Unified Health & Performance, one of his biggest passions is working with people with disabilities.

He was a special education major at Lesley University and in 2014 became the youngest coach Team Massachusetts ever had in the Special Olympics USA Games.

About 70 of his clients are people with disabilities and he strives to ensure that his gym is looked at as a space where people of all abilities can coexist and work out together. He recently hired an intern to take video documenting their fitness progress.

“I think there’s kind of this mantra in the disability world, and I don’t mean anything negative by it, but when someone performs a really mundane task, everyone says ‘Wow, that’s so motivational. That’s so inspiring,’ ” he said. “Then I have kids in here with Down syndrome that are dead-lifting 300 pounds and bench pressing a ton. Things that would be impressive for everyone. Stuff like that is what I want broadcasted to the world.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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