With the job market still sluggish and some professions looking a little sickly (law, journalism, university teaching, mainline Protestant clergy), more and more college grads are going to be looking for something to do — either for a while to bridge the gap until something long term comes through, or as an alternative career.Maybe because my own career path has been so quirky — I never got a graduate degree or worked my way up any of the traditional professional ladders — I don’t think this is such a bad thing. It’s more stressful and more challenging to build a career outside the mainstream institutions, but the life that you build that way will probably be more satisfying and may well be substantially more remunerative than anything a traditional, off-the-shelf career has to offer.From a policy point of view, I think this country needs more economic pioneers setting off to find new routes into the uncharted wilderness of the twenty-first century economy. Four trends make this an incredible time to start new businesses and rather than fighting over the remaining scraps of the old economy (growling and barking over the relative handful of good law jobs, tenure-track academic positions, print journalism jobs and so forth), young people can do a lot better on their own.Why is this such a great time to launch out on your own?First, the IT revolution represents a dramatic decline in the cost of capital for starting a business. A decent computer and an internet connection gives a business start up the kind of information and access that only large corporations used to be able to afford. The 24 year old setting up a college entrance advisory service for kids at the high school he or she once attended can access more and better information than college counselors at top prep schools had twenty years ago. Somebody wanting to launch a floral arrangement and delivery business can shop a whole world of exotic blossoms and greenery, arrange direct shipment with overseas suppliers, and compare the prices and terms of vendors with only a minimal investment of time. Off the shelf accounting and billing software can give you financial services of a kind that only established businesses able to hire accountants used to have. With overnight shipping you don’t have to maintain much inventory. You can get marketing information broken down by zip codes and census tracts; you can advertise on local sites that target your market at insignificant rates; social media allow you to reach potential customers directly. Whether your business involves photography, home design, travel, food preparation and delivery, fashion, financial planning, tutoring and/or educational counseling services, fitness training, child care or any one of ten thousand other activities, you can now offer a wider range of more customized and tailored services at very reasonable cost. And you don’t need nearly as much money to start up a business as you used to — and there are many businesses that a recent college grad can launch with little more equipment than that old college computer.The second big trend: the great American time crunch. In the last generation, the two-income family has become the norm. Nobody in America has time for all the things they would like to do or that they need to do. If you can figure out ways to take necessary chores off peoples’ hands at a reasonable price, many will pay what you ask and thank you for the help.The third big trend: the internet is now too big for most Americans to master on their own. The internet is an amazing way to get information about products or services you might want, check prices, explore options and generally make better and more informed decisions. The trouble is that for most of us — there is too much of it. There was a time when travel sites were making travel agents obsolete, but now there are so many sites and so many choices that many people would be willing to pay somebody to do that research for them. These won’t be the fat commissions that travel agents used to get, but an internet-based travel business is a lot cheaper to run. People want the information fire hose of the internet bottled into something they can conveniently use; there is room there for a lot of people to make money filtering, organizing and customizing this force.The last big trend: both labor and goods are relatively cheap. The economic transition has thrown people out of work and huge increases in manufacturing capacity have made many basic goods extremely cheap. Both these conditions favor small business and start ups. It’s not only that you can hire better help for less money than normal; services like delivery are cheaper. If you have a good idea and you know how to package and market the goods or services you want to sell, this may be the best time since the Eisenhower administration to start your own business.So where can you get some ideas for a new business? The best method is to look around at your friends and neighbors and think about what their needs and their problems are. Then think about what would solve some of those problems. An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal discussed how financial planners have identified services their clients need that they can provide to convince customers to keep using their services. Read the piece; these may or may not be the kinds of things you want to do, but they are examples of creative thinking about common life problems that a small business can solve.The age of the big box company with lifetime employment may be ending, but a new age of small business is getting underway. This is the time to get in on the ground floor; there is a world of opportunity out there for those with eyes that can see.