Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Raising the next GenHERation
April 5, 2018

Katlyn Grasso looks at entrepreneurship a little differently than other people.

While most look at entrepreneurship from the business angle, Grasso, the chief executive officer of GenHERation, told CGA students Wednesday that she looks at it as more of a quest.

She defines entrepreneurship as “executing a vision is the face of uncertainty.” And it is something she has done all her life. From starting a lemonade stand on a dead end street (“My father was my only customer.”); to creating and supplying “comfort kits” for domestic and sexual assault victims; to founding a book closet for the children of Buffalo, N.Y., that eventually reached 10,000 volumes; Grasso has always embraced the adventure in the venture.

A graduate from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Grasso has always looked one step beyond the usual. While other students were doing summer internships her freshman year of college, she didn’t even have a job. But she became inspired when she saw a help wanted sign in the window of a day care center.

Instead of just asking about the job, Grasso gave an “elevator pitch” for Taps for Tots, a tap-dancing class that would provide the recommended one hour of exercise children should receive each day. The day care owner asked her to come back on the following Monday for a demonstration. Grasso suddenly went from being unemployed to businesswoman in a matter of a few minutes.

Katlyn Grasso explains how she started GenHERation.

I was building a tap dancing empire in Buffalo, N.Y.

So she grabbed her younger sister, worked up a routine based on their tap dancing lessons, and did their program on Monday. The day care center owner was impressed enough to ask them to work at all five of her centers in the Buffalo area. By the end of the summer, Grasso had a client base of 40 day care centers.

“I was building a tap dancing empire in Buffalo, N.Y.,” she said.

Grasso was eventually selected to lead the Wharton Small Business Development Center, overseeing a staff that helped others – students and adults – realize their entrepreneurial goals. And she would eventually apply for the Penn President’s Engagement Prize, which included a grant of $150,000 to develop an innovate project that would make a significant change in the world.

Out of that evolved GenHERation, which conducts several programs to help introduce high school and college girls to various business opportunities. Based in Philadelphia, GenHERation’s programs include Discovery Days, bus trips that will bring girls together with women executives in at least 10 major cities this summer; campus connection events; a four-day summer camp with Southwest Airlines; the GenHERation digital platform; and internship opportunities.

They are all designed to get girls and businesswomen networking; help young female entrepreneurs successfully launch their businesses; and establish a support system for women across the country. The organization just recently hit 100,000 subscribers on its digital platform. GenHERation is using the power of the existing community to grow the number of female executives and entrepreneurs. Companies that have collaborated with GenHERation include Southwest, Nordstrom, the New York Yankees, New England Patriots, BoltBus, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), TOMS, Ernst & Young (EY), and Facebook.

Grasso’s advice to CGA students included:

  • Jump the stairs – You’ll fail trying to jump them all at once. But mastering one, two or three steps at a time leads to success.
  • Don’t ask, just tell – Be direct and transparent. It will lead to quicker, usually favorable, answers.
  • Swim upstream – Find the right path for your community.
  • Demonstrate your purpose – Use just three or four sentences. Customize your pitch to your audience.
  • A conversation is never finished – Always keep your channels and connections open.
  • Use the power or your community – She relies on her Penn alumni connections when possible. CGA students can do the same with Culver alumni.
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