They're 23 years old with entrepreneurship on their minds.
Three friends working jobs while trying to build businesses.
For Daniel Fernandez and Cameron Barbas, their Tampa clothing business was an idea that evolved from a pair of airbrushed shoes and a few conversations with friends.
A year and a half later, they opened Creative Destruction Clothing in the heart of the trendy SoHo district in South Tampa, as well as a kiosk at International Plaza.
For their longtime friend Tyler Ward, the idea for his new business, Giddy Organics, began with a makeshift experiment in organic skin care products.
Raised on the Internet and social media, they are among an ambitious and tech-savvy generation that is rethinking its approach to the job market. And they may be the key to reviving – and reshaping – the struggling economy.
Faced with dismal unemployment numbers and economic uncertainty, the millennials – those born in 1980 or later -- are harnessing their networking skills to join forces and create new possibilities for themselves by becoming entrepreneurs.
When it comes to networking and social media, young entrepreneurs have the edge, said Stephen Budd of the University of South Florida Center for Entrepreneurship.
"Some of the key factors for millennials are that they are very smart multi-taskers, who know technology, and see emerging opportunities – and have the energy and time to turn their ideas into great opportunities," Budd said.
With the national unemployment rate for their peers at 14.6 percent in July, and Florida's economy one of the hardest hit by the recession, Budd said young entrepreneurs who take the plunge now are positioning themselves well for the future.
A youth entrepreneurship study conducted by Buzz Marketing Group in partnership with the Young Entrepreneur Council found that 79 percent of respondents are interested in entrepreneurship, and 27 percent already are self-employed.
Not content to sit back and wait for the economy to rally, many millennials are turning to social media --and each other -- to create their own micro-economy, of sorts.
Dozens of young entrepreneurs gathered with lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month to kick off Buy Young, "a consumer movement of young Americans supporting businesses created by people their own age," harnessing social media to create a network of " young Americans looking out for each other," according to the organization's website.
When Fernandez stumbled upon a pair of hand-painted, tattoo-inspired shoes -- which he bought and sold quickly for a nice profit -- he saw an opportunity to bring the creativity of tattoo artists to consumers beyond the traditional tattoo parlor.
But because the hand-painted art has a tendency to wear out quickly, Fernandez began researching manufacturers who could reproduce the art permanently.
Then he turned to Barbas, a close friend since the two were preschoolers.
"Cameron is really good at the stuff I'm not," Fernandez said. "I've been into art my whole life. I like to deal with the art aspect. Cameron does the communicating. He has the personality, the people skills. We work really well together that way."
The duo's now-trademarked shoes, Tats, are the wearable work of a variety of tattoo artists they have met at trade shows and tattoo conventions across the country.
Creative Destruction Clothing also features Fernandez's original photography, shirts, hats and Ward's organic skin care products.
Meanwhile, their friend Ward began creating his own skin care products as an undergraduate at Stetson University in Deland. An acne problem and a professor's remarks about the sometimes disingenuous labeling of organic products prompted him to begin experimenting with ingredients on his own.
Friends often would remark on the Play Doh containers in his bathroom where he would test various combinations of materials. When he explained the contents, most were willing to give it a try.
They kept coming back for more, Ward said. But it wasn't until he saw how well the product worked for his younger brother, who also struggled with acne, that Ward decided it was time to take a leap.
Using money he earned selling hats on eBay and profits from a glassware company he started as a student -- a venture Barbos also assisted with-- he launched Giddy Organics, a skin care line that features products Ward makes by hand. Giddy started with a $300 investment and a lot of late hours, Ward said.
"A year ago, Giddy was a white paste in a Play-Dough container in my dorm room shower." Ward said. Since then it has become " a legitimate skin care system with mass appeal and strong branding."
Using organic products from mostly West coast suppliers, "I normally make one- to five-gallon quantities. My kitchen turns into a chemistry lab for a few hours," Ward said. To fill large orders, Ward rents excess capacity space from restaurants.
Both companies rely heavily on social media to get the word out on their own products. They also promote each other, and often the businesses of others through Facebook and Twitter posts.
Creative destruction asks Facebook fans to post pictures of themselves wearing CDC products to receive in-store discounts. Ward invites Giddy Organics' customers to be part of the company's evolution with frequent behind-the scenes blog and Facebook posts.
Creative Destruction also has integrated community outreach into their marketing strategy, supporting a variety of Bay area nonprofits with donations and encouraging customers to attend charity events for in-store discounts.
The three have not taken an easy road. All have side jobs that pay their living expenses. Every penny they earn from their respective companies is reinvested in the business, they said.
Fernandez and Barbas mind the shop during regular business hours, then re-open late nights on weekends to accommodate the foot traffic from the surrounding restaurants and bars.
Because they work with overseas suppliers, Fernandez sleeps with his phone next to him so he can respond to their emails immediately in the middle of the night -- or face delays in processing if he doesn't.
"You don't just work at it for a little while every day and then you're done. You have to become obsessed. It becomes your life," Barbas said.