KATLYN GRASSO, 20, a Wharton School junior, is CEO and founder of GenHERation, an online leadership portal for high school girls. GenHERation provides girls with an opportunity to work with national corporations and nonprofits to become catalysts for social change. Grasso has raised about $25,000 from various Wharton grants and venture funds to start up GenHERation.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for GenHERation?
A: I've always been passionate about helping girls achieve personally and professionally. I started a nonprofit in high school to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and that showed me you could make a difference in a person's life.
Q: How'd you get GenHERation off the ground?
A: I started last year with about $2,500. I interviewed 700 high-school girls about peer pressure and gender stereotypes that contribute to an achievement gap between men and women. I interviewed 40 executives from business leaders to social entrepreneurs about empowering younger girls. I piloted a girls' leadership camp in my hometown [Buffalo, N.Y.] last summer where female executives spoke about confidence, public speaking, social impact and innovation.
Q: What's GenHERation do?
A: I'm a proponent of experiential learning, and our interactive website enables girls to refine leadership skills and become advocates for social change by working with our partners. For example, we partner with the American Heart Association, [which] may challenge girls to develop a campaign to fight childhood obesity in their community. The girls submit ideas, and the best are chosen for implementation.
Q: The biz model?
A: We currently have a free experimental pilot with 250 high-school girls in the Northeast with eight different companies. This year we'll launch a program and charge schools fees to license our software to run GenHERation in their technology programs. Another revenue stream is corporate sponsorships. We're negotiating those right now and that's where we'll be getting the bulk of the revenue.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge you faced to date?
A: I think society in general does not take female entrepreneurs as seriously as men. I've been the only woman in the room on many occasions, pitching in a business-plan competition. I never want a girl to think she can't succeed because she's a woman.
Q: What's next?
A: We'll open up the pilot to girls all over the country this summer and run an aggressive marketing campaign. We're also having the first GenHERation conference in Philadelphia this fall, so we'll be seeking sponsors for that. I graduate next year and plan to work on this full time.