This month on Future of the Business World, we talk with Darsh Shah, a high school student from Silicon Valley in California, U.S., who was inspired by the surrounding innovation culture to start a business helping young entrepreneurs. First, however, he had to commit to developing his own entrepreneurial mindset.
Darsh and his co-founder Aarav G. have also launched a successful business hackathon for high school students in partnership with Berkeley Haas School of Business in California. A collaborative approach, notes Darsh, has “opened doors that are endless” for the scalability of his youth-led startup.
Be sure to click the arrow above to listen to our conversation! An edited version of the podcast transcript appears below.
Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. At Global Youth, we’re busy building a new year of business opportunities for high school students around the world, as applications for our summer programs flood in by the priority deadline on January 31 [on-campus programs and location-based programs].
In a few months, we’ll be meeting all kinds of earnest and innovative spirits, like our guest today on Future of the Business World.
We first met Darsh Shah, a high school student from California, last summer in our Leadership in the Business World (LBW) program, when he spent three weeks on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus. One morning after a faculty lecture, he introduced himself and started to tell me about his business, Rising C-Suites. Darsh has been working hard since to grow this endeavor, which he calls “Silicon Valley’s first youth-led consulting firm.”
Darsh, welcome to Future of the Business World.
Darsh Shah: Thank you so much. I’m honored to be here.
Wharton Global Youth: First, I want you to fill us in on your life since summer 2023. What’s been going on these past couple months?
Darsh: Aside from the typical schoolwork as a senior, I’ve been applying to a ton of colleges. Every single day after school you can catch me at Philz Coffee, sitting down, sipping on a gingersnap coffee, and just applying to colleges, doing schoolwork, and all this extracurricular work I’ve burdened myself with for the past couple years.
I’ve stayed in touch with a ton of the students who went to LBW, and a couple of them I’ve hired at Rising C-Suites. And I’ve also stayed in touch with Flavio Serapiao, a professor we had at LBW, as well as guest speaker, John Gamba. And so, I hope to build a partnership with Wharton in the future. But you know, just a typical senior lifestyle for the past couple months.
Wharton Global Youth: Sounds great. So, let’s talk a little bit about Rising C-Suites. You say it has its roots in what you call a “massive lack of resources for young entrepreneurs.” Can you tell me how you discovered that gap? And how you feel inspired to address it? And also how you feel qualified to address it?
Darsh: Back in 9th and 10th grade, I had this initiative of mine called Young Champions. It was a tutoring and coaching initiative launched purely with the intent of driving positive change. We taught basketball, math and coding to students in my community, in my city of Pleasanton, as well as throughout the Bay Area.
Although these efforts were impactful, I knew I could scale. I knew that the scale I was reaching could be even higher. And so, I realized that these students around me had similar issues, and that they had initiatives of their own, but they just couldn’t scale them and couldn’t reach the edge they really believed they could have. And so, I felt passionate about my work. But I couldn’t scale it because of that lack of guidance and resources. That’s why I launched Rising C-Suites. Because the students around me and myself lacked the guidance and resources to launch our own initiatives and scale them to the level we knew we could [reach].
At a consulting firm, the issue I have resonates with a lot of students that I take on. A lot of the students come to us at Rising C-Suites with issues that they have in terms of scaling and just implementing an idea they have. And because of the struggles that I’ve faced in the past, I think that I’m able to work with each of them and tell them about the issues I faced and how they can overcome those issues.
Again, I’m not alone. And I think that I’m not overly qualified to do this as well, which is why I have a ton of consultants on my team that have faced similar issues, but also have successful initiatives. They can mentor the students that we take on as clients and teach them how to get through the early-stage challenges that the students face. I know that within each student’s respective community, each student is going to have tailored issues that they face with their own startup, which is why we’ve hired so many students around the world with various perspectives, each of whom can help the clients we take on launch their own startups and face those challenges and have a team to support them.
Wharton Global Youth: I heard bits and pieces in there of so many things I want to talk to you more about. But first, let’s talk more about Rising C-Suites, because I want to understand what your consulting firm does. What is your business model? And interestingly, you’re in Silicon Valley, a hub of innovation, so I’m wondering, are there a lot of teenagers starting businesses around you? Can you talk about the culture?
Darsh: I can dive into first our business model and how we operate. What really sets us apart is we have a three-stage consulting model that’s tailored to each student. I think consulting firms only work when the people on the team work and tailor all of their efforts to really get to know each of their clients.
Our three-stage model is as follows.
Step one: you meet with the founders — and the founders are me and Aarav — and we get to know not just your vision and mission, but you as a person. We get to understand what you hope to gain from your initiative and what you envision for the organization in the future, and what you’re looking for from us in terms of help.
Now step two: this is our action-plan development stage. This is really what sets us apart. We have a team of consultants use the notes that me and my other founder created. We create a 10-to-11-page document outlining a business model and just what we think you can use to grow your company and the strategy we hope you can implement. Again, this is open-ended. We want to have a bunch of different ideas that you can take from. This is going to help us understand not just you as a person, but also as a businessperson. We can create a model that we think works for you.
Finally, stage three: after you’ve looked over this action plan that we’ve developed, this step is for consulting-team support. Depending on where you’d like to start, you work with a consultant who specializes in the field that you want to focus on first. Let’s say you want to build a social media platform, or you want to grow your company as a whole. You would work with our marketing consultant — his name is Harrison — and he actually has 160,000 followers on Instagram for a fashion company he launched. He really has expertise in that one field. If you want to build that field, then you can partner with Harrison, and he’d be your tailored consultant. So, you wouldn’t really be wasting your time because you’d be working with a consultant who is perfect for your needs. We hone in on exactly what it is that you would like to develop.
There definitely is a ton of student innovation in the Bay Area. I think I’ve really been inspired by that. So many students around me, especially from where I live, all of them are taking initiative on their own. That’s really what inspired me to launch Rising C-Suites. The market we have at Rising C-Suites is these young students who have these initiatives. A lot of the people we work with are these student innovators that I’m surrounded by, that inspire me. And I’ve been inspired by the success we’ve had in the past couple months.
Wharton Global Youth: Before we go on, I want to understand Aarav’s role. Can you tell me about your co-founder?
Darsh: Aarav and I met at Berkeley ATDP [Academic Talent Development Program], which was a program I took after 9th grade. [He and I] went into this program individually not knowing anything. We just wanted to explore a career interest and figure out what we wanted to do for the next couple of years. And so initially, I didn’t know him that well.
But in this past junior year, last year, before my senior year, I met him in DECA, and we both did DECA together. Our relationship kick-started here because of our shared passion for bridging aspiration to accomplishment, which is what Rising C-Suites embodies today. And we became more than just co-founders, but also best friends who like go to Philz Coffee every single day and play basketball every single night. Our partnership today has evolved into something of a long-term friendship, which I think we will sustain through and past our college years.
“My mantra for the last couple of years has been that discipline really is long-term motivation. And it’s the best form of self-love…I’ve begun to love what I do. That was a turning point for me.” –Darsh Shah, co-founder, Rising C-Suites
Wharton Global Youth: Can you share a story of an entrepreneur you’ve helped and how that relationship unfolds?
Darsh: One name that comes to mind for me is a client named Alice Zhou. She’s a student [who] came to us with an idea for a financial-literacy platform for inclusion. At this point, it was an early-stage idea that she had. But she was extremely passionate about it. She came to us very early on. As the year progressed, she has transformed Finclusion into a platform that works to teach students all around the world to invest for impact and to gain experience in the world of investments, because so many people around the United States are not taught about financial literacy and investing their money and acting financially responsibly. We connected her with funding opportunities [that] we collected through research with our own consulting team. Providing such opportunities for her has definitely set the grounds for her to grow her startup to a larger scale than ever. And I think it really does show the true power of collaboration between students being mutually beneficial.
Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Rising C-Suites has worked in the past with that school, right? What is the story behind that connection? And how has it contributed to the growth of your business?
Darsh: Before I talk about Berkeley itself, I can dive into what we did with them, which was a business hackathon. The Rising C-Suites Business Hackathon is a subsidiary of Rising C-Suites, which I launched as a managing partner. It’s a take on critical thinking and business in a case study competition for students. I know we’ve all heard of hackathons being associated with computer science, where students will have a certain amount of time to do a project. This is really similar, except it is using critical thinking and innovation and business.
As for Berkeley, I said I attended Berkeley ATDP in my 9th grade year, but I think what really kick-started this relationship was in junior year Aarav attended Berkeley’s Business Academy for Youth. Aarav and I combined our efforts and we realized we can reach out to the founders and directors of this entire program, Savon and Olive, both of whom are more than willing to expand our Rising C-Suites business hackathon to the youth program. And why? Because they have a shared mission with us of empowering the youth through business. After this connection forged, we’ve transformed this relationship into a multi-year contract with Berkeley Haas, which has allowed us to continue hosting this Rising C-Suites Business Hackathon with the school for years to come.
I hope that our partnership can serve as a means of inspiration for students with impactful initiatives that are looking to take the next step. Before the relationship with Haas, we were just a startup looking to create impact on a local scale. But today, it’s global. And the partnership has opened doors that are endless. And hosting the largest high school-led case study competition in the nation at Berkeley Haas has allowed us to meet the faces of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Bay Area and build upon our mission of creating global business impact within the youth. We hosted 70-80 students at our business hackathon, and they came from all around the United States. We awarded venture capital scholarships to Berkeley’s Business Academy for Youth in the Academic Year, which is an upcoming program at Berkeley. And we also offered consulting at Rising C-Suites. We offered business education development through Junior Achievement, for which we gave out $5,000. We’re hoping to build upon our efforts, especially in the coming years, because our mission to empower youth through business has gone exponential after this business hackathon at Haas. I’m hoping to expand upon this initiative as we move forward.
Wharton Global Youth: The hackathon that you are running with them is directed specifically at high school students, correct?
Darsh: Yes, that’s something that separates us. I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of events hosted at colleges, but a lot of them are for college students and high school students don’t really have access to this kind of event. That’s what sets us apart. I think that’s where we’re going to create impact for the next couple of years.
Wharton Global Youth: Has your Berkeley Haas relationship sparked additional ideas for collaboration?
Darsh: As I said, I’ve been in touch with Professor Flavio Sarapiao and Professor John Gamba, both of whom work at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. I went to them with a fully thought-out pitch deck with my team. Our goal is to incorporate the Rising C-Suites Business Hackathon into LBW or into the Penn’s Graduate School of Education. For LBW, we gave three different ideas we had to incorporate it, and they loved a couple of them. That’s [been on hold] for the past couple of weeks. But I hope to continue building upon this, especially come second semester. I think that there could be some exciting things coming in the next couple of months.
Wharton Global Youth: I remember you telling me that you applied to a Wharton Global Youth finance program when you were a younger high school student and you actually didn’t get in. But then you came back and you applied to several for the summer of 2023, including LBW, and you were accepted to all of them. I’m curious, this is a great comeback story. Did that initial rejection light a fire under you about business? And how were you able to return to the process that much stronger?
Darsh: That was pretty unfortunate. [In 2022], I applied to Essentials of Finance and I got rejected. However, I think that it only pushed me to keep taking the initiative and reapply the following year. I think a key reason I struggled that year was because I noticed problems around me, but rather than implementing and taking initiative, I lacked the experience and honestly the courage to do something meaningful with it. And rather than taking the rejection as a sign of discouragement, I took it as a means of redirection, allowing me to focus my efforts on a truly impactful initiative; hence, Rising C-Suites.
Additionally, I began gaining new perspectives in the business world and learning a lot about how to keep myself motivated for a long period of time. My mantra for the last couple of years has been that discipline really is long-term motivation. And it’s the best form of self-love. Especially these past couple of years, I’ve begun to love what I do. That was a turning point for me. [In 2023], I was accepted into Essentials of Finance, which is definitely a full-circle moment. And I was also accepted to Cambridge’s International Management Program. But in the end, I did end up going to LBW, which I think was an awesome decision.
Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. And all three of those are Wharton Global Youth programs, by the way. Let’s talk a little bit about your time in Leadership in the Business World. You have alluded to this a few times, but I want to talk about it more. You expanded your international outreach while you were on the Wharton campus. You said that you hired students from the UAE, the U.S., Norway and beyond, because of your time in the summer program. Can you talk a bit about the strength of your international network? And what has that international awareness taught you?
Darsh: I’m a firm believer in the fact that we learn the most from people we have zero similarities with. And stepping out of our comfort zone is where all the learning happens, especially for me. I believe that this applies geographically as well. In expanding our team to an international level, I work with students who bring perspectives [that] I was never accustomed to. I got a chance to meet our head of consulting – his name is Daniel C. — at LBW for the first time ever in New York, because we both were going for a weekend there. He taught me so much about his experience in consulting and studying business in Germany. He’s based out of Germany. I found that such globalized perspectives can truly drive valuable and nuanced perspectives, which I find super valuable.
I think LBW really focuses in on that: bringing students from various backgrounds together to one common place where they can share their learnings with the entire classroom for three weeks. Studying with these students, I had a chance to onboard many of them, as I said, onto the team. And each of them has provided not just global opportunities for the team, but I would say invaluable learnings for each of us. Business is practiced in many different ways around the world. I think combining that into one consulting firm, and even one big network for the future is definitely going to be valuable, not just for a company, but also for each of us as people.
Wharton Global Youth: Do you have an example of one LBW student you’ve been working with, and how his or her perspective fits into the consulting business?
Evan C. is in the U.S., based on the East Coast. He has a lot of different connections on the East Coast in journalism, and just helping us build awareness for Rising C-Suites on the East Coast, which is something we didn’t have beforehand. And I know that his experience, on that side, was something we were never accustomed to at Rising C-Suites and so that, even within the U.S. perspective, brought us growth.
We hired this other person named Carl L. He is also based on the East Coast. And his experience in finance was the baseline for creating funding opportunities for students that we took on as clients, because he had a platform he’d launched in the past that provided these funding opportunities. And so, they’ve helped tons of our clients.
Speaking internationally, there’s a couple of students I’ve tried to partner with, and I’m currently working with one of them. His name is Adam. He’s based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has someone that works with NYU Abu Dhabi. And so, we were trying to build a partnership with that school, which is still in progress. Again, a lot of things at Rising C-Suites are in progress. He has those opportunities for Rising C-Suites to grow upon and scale upon. These students that work internationally have completely different ways they do business. That proves valuable for Rising C-Suites. I want to expand the startup to other communities that we’ve not gotten a chance to touch on.
Wharton Global Youth: That network sounds very valuable. And it really does fit into my next question, which is talking about this journey of business self-discovery that you’ve been on in the past few years. What do you feel like is the power of entrepreneurship for youth around the world? And how have you come to understand innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit that maybe you didn’t know before?
Darsh: Entrepreneurship and innovation [are] truly all about passion. If you are passionate about something, you’ll enjoy your work and it will lead to self-discovery. The power of entrepreneurship stems from passion and using that passion to ignite initiative makes it really special. However, I think, again, as I said before, it all comes from discipline. It’s the biggest form of self-love, right? Go to the gym one day, and you’re not going to see the results. Go to the gym 100 days in a row and every day you’re going to keep chipping away and you’re going to continue to see results. It’s the same thing for driving to innovation. Work towards your passion each and every day, and you’ll see progress. And that progress is going to be the thing that keeps you going every day.
I think that youth definitely [are] the face of the future. And everything we see around us is definitely the result of young changemakers looking to create an impact in the world. As I’ve continued on my journey in business, I’ve realized this more and more, because the people I’ve surrounded myself with have really sculpted me as a person. And each of these people embodies that innovation that I hope to embody in the future.
Wharton Global Youth: So, do you hope to reach the C-Suite someday?
Darsh: Definitely. I hope to continue immersing myself in the startup ecosystem, act as a leader, and be an even more impactful C Suite than I am right now. I think that my dreams are definitely big. But I’m sure that with determination and small steps every single day, I can make them happen.
Wharton Global Youth: Allright, let’s end with our lightning round. Please answer these questions as quickly as you can.
Innovation aside, what is the best part of living in Silicon Valley?
Darsh: I would say the food for sure. Most people are in the field of tech or business, but I would say there’s no shortage of mastermind chefs.
Wharton Global Youth: what is your favorite startup to recently come to market?
Darsh: Adept AI. It’s a machine learning model startup that can interact with everything on your computer. I think it’s so cool.
Wharton Global Youth: What brand holds special value for you and why?
Darsh: I think this may be a pretty generic answer, but it’s gonna be Apple for me. My dad works there, but aside from that, I’ve always been inspired by the fact that they kind of take into account that less is more, and each product of theirs is really sleek. They emphasize luxury and simplicity. Their success is something that inspires me. And it’s something I hope to emulate in the future.
Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?
Darsh: My obsession with random impromptu adventure. I’m always driving my Honda Odyssey on the lookout for new foods, cafés and friends.
Wharton Global Youth: Your favorite location on the Wharton Philadelphia campus?
Darsh: Definitely nightly HoneyGrow dinners with Carter, Francesco and Arthur, a couple of my friends from LBW. You hosted Carter I think on your last Future of the Business World podcast.
Wharton Global Youth: When you’re not a business consultant, your favorite activity is?
Darsh: traveling the world and immersing myself into new cultures and people. I think that there’s true value in it. And most of all, it’s really fun.
Wharton Global Youth: You’re starting your own business-themed talk show. Who is your first guest? And your first topic?
Darsh: I’ve begun to explore AI’s long-term startup implications recently, and so I would definitely make my first show about AI in the startup world. And host [computer scientist] Andrew Ng, [a recognized leader in AI].
Wharton Global Youth: Darsh, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Darsh: Thank you for having me.
Darsh Shah has made some strategic moves to “scale” Rising C-Suites or grow it beyond the Silicon Valley region. How has he done this?
When Darsh was originally rejected from Wharton Global Youth’s Essentials of Finance program he says, “I think a key reason I struggled that year was because I noticed problems around me, but rather than implementing and taking initiative, I lacked the experience and honestly the courage to do something meaningful with it.” What does he mean by this and how does this relate to the entrepreneurial mindset? Do you have this mindset? Share your story in the comment section of this article.
Do you agree with Darsh that discipline is one of the greatest forms of self-love?