Baltimore millennials creatively forge their own career path

Many are eschewing the 9-to-5 grind for creative self-employment

  • Rachel Millman, the owner and director of Reel Estate Media, at home in Canton.
Rachel Millman, the owner and director of Reel Estate Media,… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
June 17, 2014|By Andrew Zaleski

Last winter, Rachel Millman began searching for a home in Baltimore. She combed through listings online, but the work of narrowing down her search based on static images became tedious. What if, instead, she could take a video tour through each house, and use a slightly more dynamic medium to decide whether to schedule an in-person tour?

When Millman closed on her new home in Canton this year, having already pitched her idea to a number of receptive real estate agents she had met along the way, she knew this was the right moment. She quit her full-time magazine job of the last two years and, at age 25, founded Reel Estate Media, a company that works with real estate agents in the area to record walk-through videos of houses for sale and video profiles for the agents themselves. As of now, she's the only employee.

"I've been thinking of starting my own company pretty much since I graduated from college," says Millman, who graduated in May 2011 after studying electronic media and film at Towson University. "I thought: 'I'm young. Now's the time,' and I just decided to do it, probably against the better judgment of a lot of people."

While Millman wouldn't have purchased a house if she were paying for it entirely on her own — she and her fiance, a financial services adviser, are moving in together — her decision to forgo the stability of a full-time job with a guaranteed paycheck is one that mirrors a nationwide trend among the millennial generation, the cohort of roughly 73 million Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s who are loosely defined as being between the ages of 18 and 34 today. More millennials are creating their own jobs, either as a response to a continually crummy economy in which they can't find work, or because they would rather be their own bosses and run their own businesses.

A 2011 study by the nonprofit entrepreneurs' support organization Young Entrepreneur Council and Buzz Marketing Group put the percentage of self-employed millennials in the U.S. at 27 percent. Another 2011 study by the Affluence Collaborative, a market research consultancy, estimated that 40 percent started businesses or were planning to.

In Baltimore, a similar mind-set can be observed among the city's millennials who, at slightly more than 163,000 strong, make up the largest age group within the city limits, according to American Community Survey data from 2012. (Baby boomers, those between 50 and 68, number 156,000 in Baltimore.) At incubators such as the Emerging Technology Centers in Highlandtown and Betamore in Federal Hill, a markedly younger crowd toils away on tech startups from behind laptop screens. Walk into Dooby's coffee shop on North Charles Street or Artifact Coffee in Hampden on any given weekday, and a herd of baby-faced digital nomads hunched over keyboards click away while sipping haute caffeinated beverages.

"One of the real strengths about this region now is its appeal to the millennial generation," says Tom Sadowski, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. "It's become a great market in which to start a business, because there's access to capital, mentorship and guidance."

If a survey conducted in May 2013 by research and management firm Millennial Branding and online freelance marketplace oDesk is to be trusted, any urban locale with a growing millennial set will experience an increase in those who identify as self-employed. Appropriately titled "Millennials and the Future of Work," the survey found that nearly 60 percent of millennials worldwide who had been freelancing on the side while working a full-time job quit that job to work for themselves.

For 30-year-old Scott Messinger, such was the route he took to co-founding his education-technology startup Common Curriculum, a Web application for teachers to digitize their weekly lesson plans and share assignments and homework via email with parents and students. An elementary school teacher in Baltimore public schools for four years, Messinger began developing Common Curriculum in 2009. In his free time, he learned Ruby, JavaScript and several other computer programming languages he needed, and in June 2010 he left the teaching profession. He still worked part time for the city's school system as a curriculum writer, but he quit to work full time on Common Curriculum once he launched the product in August 2012 with co-founder Robbie Earle, another former Baltimore public school teacher.

"I knew since I was a kid I wanted to work in a startup-like environment," says Messinger, who lives near Hollins Market. "For me it was really just that there was this problem, and I wanted to solve it. I always enjoyed creating stuff. I'm doing what I always wanted to do."

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