“There are so many resources available at universities for entrepreneurs. When people ask why I started a business in college, I respond, ‘Why wouldn’t I start a business in college?’”
Like many girls growing up today, Katlyn Grasso was told women could do “anything” in their careers and their lives. However, when she began studying business at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she learned that women occupied just a small fraction of top leadership positions in business. After doing extensive research, Katlyn concluded that girls would be more likely to aim for the C-Suite if they had early experiences that would help them develop leadership skills, as well as exposure to female executives, inspiring stories, and scholarship opportunities. The result is GenHERation.
HatchPad: What does GenHERation do?
Katlyn Grasso: GenHERation is an interactive media company that provides high school and college women access to career exploration, female executives, skill-building activities, and scholarships through our digital platform and events. Through our website, we publish more than 40 articles a month, host an original webisode series [of video interviews with female leaders], and work with companies to develop challenges for our members.
For the past two summers, we have hosted the GenHERation Summer Leadership Series, which brought girls and female executives together for conferences across the United States. This summer, we’re reverse-engineering the model [by bringing young women to workplaces]. GenHERation Discovery Days 2016 will provide high school and college women with the opportunity to visit and interact with female executives at some of the most innovative companies in America. We are visiting five cities across the United States, including San Francisco; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; New York, and Philadelphia. More than 40 companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, EY, Hartford Funds, NBCUniversal, and the New York Yankees, are participating in our summer tour. Girls travel by bus throughout each city and can register for the trips in the cities they would like to attend. Since we launched in 2014, we have empowered more than 65,000 girls and hosted 16 events across North America.
HatchPad: What idea or experience led you to founding GenHERation?
KG: I grew up in a very supportive environment that nurtured female leaders. I went to an all-girls high school, was a Girl Scout, and was surrounded by people who champion the advancement of women. When I went to college, I realized that there is a lack of women leaders in business. Women currently hold approximately 4% of S&P 500 CEO positions. During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I received a research grant from Wharton to analyze what leadership means to high school girls, female executives, and educators. I interviewed more than 700 high school girls, 40 female executives, and 30 educators around the world. The most important takeaway from this study was that girls need experiential learning opportunities to develop their skills and gain the confidence to pursue leadership positions later in their lives. This experience inspired me to create a company that would allow girls to engage with companies and female executives to develop the skills needed to succeed in any industry.
HatchPad: You graduated from Wharton in May 2015, and you are now working on GenHERation full-time, but why did you want to start a business while you were still in college?
KG: There are so many resources available at universities for entrepreneurs. When people ask why I started a business in college, I respond, “Why wouldn’t I start a business in college?”
Once I started my business, I became involved in an incubator program at Wharton called the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, which provides new businesses with office space, educational programming, professional advisors, and a support system of fellow entrepreneurial students. The summer before my senior year I received the Wharton Venture Award, which provided me with $10,000 for me to work on my startup. The spring before I graduated, I received the inaugural President’s Engagement Prize from Dr. Amy Gutmann, which provides graduating seniors with $150,000 to develop projects that have the potential to change the world. During the past year, I used the President’s Engagement Prize to fund the national expansion of GenHERation, and we now have members across all 50 states.
HatchPad: Do you think entrepreneurship is an innate characteristic—in your nature—or something you learn, that is, through nurture?
KG: I think it’s 90% nature and 10% nurture. When you are 12 years old, you might not know that you want to be an entrepreneur, but it is likely that you already exhibit the characteristics needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are optimistic, resilient, big thinkers, and have a positive attitude.
Name of Business: GenHERation
Founder: Katlyn Grasso
Business Type: Media- interactive media company for aspirational young women
Age of founder: 23
Locations: New York and California