NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Millennials whose parents lost their savings during the financial crisis, then lost their jobs as businesses slashed workforces to survive, lost faith in both Wall Street and Corporate America. Their distrust can now be measured, to a degree, in the way they invest both their money and their time.
About 66% of the generation born between 1980 and 2000 see starting their own business as a more reliable path to financial security than buying stocks and climbing the corporate ladder, according to an October 2014 survey from Bentley University.
Indeed, just 13% of Millennials have their sights set on becoming a CEO, Bentley's study found. That's roughly in line with the 14% who say they trust Wall Street, according to an April survey from Harvard University's Institute of Politics. As far as voting with their wallets, only 26% of 18- to 34-year-olds are investing in stocks, according to a March survey from Bankrate.
"I've been investing in myself and in whatever companies or projects I have on the side that could someday become something big," said New York City millennial Shaun Salzberg, 29, a software and app developer. "That seems like something much more worth my time and money than the stock market."
Salzberg's attitude is common among Millennials, and Tuffile attributes it to their experiences during the financial crisis, which began with high-risk borrowers defaulting on high-interest mortgages in 2006 and came to a head with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank in September 2008.
From October 2008 to March 2009, about 712,000 jobs were lost on average each month. That's the worst six-month stretch of job losses since 1945, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that time, the S&P 500 plummeted 31%, causing 401(k) balances to crumble: Some $34.4 trillion of wealth worldwide was lost from October 2007 to March 2009, according to the Roosevelt Institute.
"Millennials watched their parents lose their jobs back in 2008," said Fred Tuffile, director of entrepreneurial studies at Bentley University. "There's no sense of corporate commitment to anybody."
Another driver of the shift to entrepreneurship is that technological advancements have made it much easier and cheaper to start a business than even 10 years ago.
"Millennials also have role models," Tuffile explained. "It doesn't have to be Mark Zuckerberg [the founder of Facebook]. They're watching their peers down the hall in their dorm start businesses and have a great time doing it -- while they watch Corporate America worry about their jobs."
Even though seven years have passed since the financial crisis, and the S&P 500 has eclipsed its pre-crisis high, about 59% of millennials ages 18 to 34 say their distrust of the markets has made them less confident about investing, according to a 2015 Capital One ShareBuilder survey.
Instead, 26-year-old Bill Connolly who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he invests in his own personal brand through tactics such as self-publishing. His recent book, Funny Business, teaches Millennials how to use comedy to get ahead in the workforce.
The book ''cost a decent amount of money," said Connolly, who works in marketing and is also willing to invest to strengthen his Rolodex.
"I'll fly on my own dollar to meet different people around the country to engage with them and build up that experience base, which helps me build a network that I think might have value down the line," he said.
While entrepreneurship enables Millennials to rely more on their own efforts for financial security, it's an inherently risky strategy. For every Facebook (FB), Google (GOOG) or Amazon (AMZN) that takes off, there are plenty of small businesses that fizzle. In fact, just half of businesses make it more than five years and only one-third last past ten years, according to the Small Business Administration.
While David Nelson, chief strategist of Belpointe Asset Management, applauds Millennials who have the expertise and drive to start their own businesses, he stresses the importance of traditional strategies that investors have long relied on to meet their financial goals, including company 401(k) plans.
"Eventually, [Millennials] have to come into the markets," he said. "They're going to need to save for retirement and it takes a long, long time."
Some 74% of full-time workers are able to contribute to an employer's 401(k) plan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While 401(k)s have exposure to equities, which might keep Millennials up at night, passing on that opportunity is unwise, experts say.
"Many employers will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage," said Kristen Robinson, senior vice president for women & young investors, at Fidelity Investments. "If you're not contributing to that match, you're literally leaving money on the table."
Compounding interest makes 401(k) investments particularly powerful. By contributing to a retirement plan starting at 35, instead of 30, Millennials are forfeiting $62,000 over 25 years, according to a November 2014 report from the Insured Retirement Institute.
"Just $33 per month will represent $100,000 by the time you're 67," Robinson said.
And investing in a startup and one's 401(k) retirement plan don't have to be mutually exclusive. "Millennials think they need to have a sizable amount of capital to invest and that's just not true," said Kevin Kelly, chief investment officer of Recon Capital Partners.
Whether devoting money that might have been invested in the markets to a start-up business is wise or unwise ultimately depends on how the business fares, Tuffile said. "If millennials start a business and it's successful," he said, "they'll end up ahead of the curve and can develop their own 401(k)."
Facebook, for example, was started by Zuckerberg when he was still a student at Harvard, and today carries a market value of $228 billion.
And even if Millennials are missing out on 401(k) perks like employers' matches and the current bull market that has pushed the S&P 500 up 213% since its March 2009 low, they are socking money away for the future.
Some 56% of millennials are saving 5% of their income, according to a February 2015 survey from the Consumer Federation of America. That's in line with the 5.3% average savings rate of all U.S. residents, according to the Commerce Department.
"I'm just saving aggressively right now," said Cory Bradburn, 28, who works in social media in New York City. "I know that's not compounding so much, but at the same time, I know that somebody else isn't moving my money around or pushing a stock onto me."