I talked to over 700 girls all across the world – all 50 states, nine countries, four continents, and I was asking: What is leadership to you? What resources do you need? What resources are you lacking? With that information I could start to put something together.
Then I also interviewed female executives to learn about the gap between being an aspirational leader in high school and being a leading professional at a company. That was a really critical period for me because it led me to develop a leadership camp for girls in 2013. It was a field experiment for me to gain that experiential learning.
I held the camp in the Buffalo area for four weeks. Every week I would bring in a different female leader in an executive position to speak about her career path, and at the end of the summer when it wrapped up, there was really positive feedback from the girls. I realized that we needed to be primarily online so we could reach even more. I started a really simple WordPress site, and we’re a comprehensive media outlet for high school girls now. We published daily content – not content about just women, but articles about business, politics, and technology. I think it’s important to be an informed, global citizen, so every day we have tasks for the girls to complete, activities, and videos. It’s a dynamic online community that allows girls to get out there and interact with each other, taking what they see online and implementing it in their real lives.
After that summer I got into the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, which is a Wharton incubator for startups. I started going to schools and talking about GenHERation too, and it was during that transition from summer to fall that I realized what we were missing at the leadership camp: an experiential component with companies. So during my research I would ask girls about issues that they were passionate about and that they would like to fix. Of all the girls I interviewed, everyone had something that made her want to get out there and make a difference.
That led me to recruiting sponsors during the summer. Beginning in March, we ran a pilot program with about 250 girls. We’ve had over nine corporate sponsors, we worked with a company every week, and we gave out over $2,000 in scholarships. We were testing ways to get more engaged with our users for this summer.
When people ask me how I manage my time, I say, “Don’t think, just do.” If I made a list of exactly what had to be done every day, it would be very overwhelming. GenHERation is my pride and joy – it’s my whole life. But I’m also really involved on campus. Next year I’m going to be co-president of Wharton Ambassadors. I’m also the managing practice leader of the Wharton Small Business Development Center, which is Wharton’s consulting center for students.
The biggest roadblock I’ve run into is being a female entrepreneur. I don’t think that female entrepreneurs are taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Only 2% of venture funding is given to women, and I think that’s something that has to change. I’ve been in rooms where I’ve been the only girl pitching to a panel of primarily male judges, and because I’m a woman working on a female empowerment company, I sort of get it from all angles.
I hope that more girls consider entrepreneurship, and my advice is that you can’t let anyone say you can’t do something. People will tell you every day that your business is not going to be successful, or that you’re wasting your time. You have to be confident in yourself that you’re living your dream and pursuing your vision, and you can’t let anyone or anything get in the way.