Before attending Penn, Wharton senior Katlyn Grasso googled the phrase “female entrepreneurs” and found few search results.
Currently, women own 41 percent of all businesses, according to a recent CNBC article. However, research shows that only 8 percent of women-led businesses gain professional investments, the article said. Given these numbers, it’s not hard to see why Grasso had a hard time finding a female business role model.
“I realized there were just so few women leading companies, so I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Grasso said.
She launched GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high school girls, in March 2014 to instill confidence in young women wanting to pursue leadership positions.
“When I came to business school I saw that even though there were almost equal women, they’re just not starting companies or leading companies at the same rates as men are,” she said. At Wharton, 41 percent of the Class of 2018 is female. “I decided what’s really important is to address girls and make them confident in their leadership abilities when they’re young.”
GenHERation is a media outlet that connects young girls with the opportunity to work with national corporations and nonprofit organizations, ranging from the American Heart Association to ESPN-W, the branch of ESPN that covers women’s sports. Every month, GenHERation partners with a different company or nonprofit that will challenge girls to raise awareness about a social issue. Students from around the country can submit ideas to the GenHERation website, and the winner then works with the company or organization to implement her idea.
Most recently, GenHeration and ESPN-W chose a young girl from the Philadelphia area to host a basketball game at her high school to raise awareness about the Women’s Sports Foundation.
GenHERation — whose website launched March 1, 2014 — additionally serves as an outlet for current events, tech talks, a financial literacy campaign and a “Question and AnswHER” section featuring other women entrepreneurs. Thus far, GenHERation has reached 10,000 people online.
Grasso said that there is a “perceptual leadership gap. If girls don’t see a lot of women in powerful positions they’ll subconsciously think that they can’t amount to that, and they fall victim to their own self doubt.”
Still, Grasso noted that the amount of women involved in entrepreneurship at Penn is growing. As a member of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, Grasso interacts with other entrepreneurs on campus.
VIP is an entrepreneurship educational program managed by Wharton Entrepreneurship that connects students with resources including mentors and a work space in Vance Hall.
Managing Director of Wharton Entrepreneurship Clare Leinweber said there is no shortage of women in VIP, adding that it is “a very vibrant, inclusive culture.”
Still, she would love to see more diversity in the program in general.
“We would love to see more [women] just like we would love to see more here from other schools [in the University],” Leinweber said. “We would like to see an increase in interest from students all across Penn in participating in our programs.”
Other female-led businesses whose founders were members of VIP include , a custom jean company, and My Best Friend’s Weekend, a bachelorette party-planning company led by Wharton MBA students.
Recent studies show the business world might be starting to tilt in favor of women in some areas.
Wharton professor Ethan Mollick, together with professor Jason Greenberg at New York University, recently found that women were 13 percent more likely than men to meet their Kickstarter goals.
Upon graduation, Grasso plans to expand GenHERation to encourage even more young women to start their own businesses.
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