Do you feel it? There’s lots of women power this summer on Future of the Business World, as we discuss issues like equality and embracing a diversity of perspectives in the business boardroom and beyond.
This month, Wharton Global Youth takes that conversation in a new direction with Sophie Bakshi, a rising senior from Washington, D.C., who has participated in several of our high school programs in the past few years, ending most recently with three weeks at the Wharton School in Philadelphia for Leadership in the Business World. Sophie sent us a podcast pitch about her startup Choice Compass, and when we met her on campus, we felt her passion for reproductive justice and building awareness about FemTech, a multi-billion-dollar industry that advances technology to solve the gender inequalities that exist in the health care system.
Be sure to tap the arrow above and listen to our conversation with Sophie, a champion of supporting and educating young women and men, and an innovator who sees hope for the future of the business world. An edited transcript appears below.
Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
We are taping this episode mid-summer in the U.S. and can say with confidence that high school students are making the most of their school breaks.
Your passion for all things business runs deep! As does your dedication to the entrepreneurial mindset. Ideas come from life – and we see many high school students observing the world around them to combine resonant needs with compelling solutions.
Today’s guest Sophie Bakshi is a Wharton Youth to her core, having participated in several of our programs – most recently spending three weeks on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus in Leadership in the Business World. It was possibly her time in our innovation program last summer that inspired Sophie’s creative thinking around her startup, Choice Compass. I’m excited to hear more.
Sophie, welcome to Future of the Business World!
Sophie Bakshi: Thank you so much for having me.
Wharton Global Youth: Take me back to the summer of 2022 when you were inspired to start your nonprofit, Choice Compass. What sparked this idea and set your entrepreneurship wheels turning?
Sophie: Yeah, so in summer of 2022, like you mentioned, I was fortunate enough to be part of the first cohort that attended the Essentials of Innovation program in San Francisco, California, as part of the Wharton Global Youth Program. So, during this course, I met some incredible entrepreneurs. And I was absolutely blown away by the depth and the breadth of talent. And I was actually able to find one of my co-founders for Choice Compass during this course. His name is Henry. That I feel really tells you the power of the Penn network.
And so, fast forward to August of 2022, after the course, when the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade was overturned. This event profoundly affected the millions of women around the U.S. who suddenly had their reproductive rights stripped away from them. And I was no exception to this. After processing this life-changing event, I realized that I couldn’t just go on like nothing had happened. I had to do something. So of course, my entrepreneurial gears started to turn. And I reached out to Henry, who was also incredibly passionate about reproductive justice. So, we started brainstorming. How can we bridge our knowledge about innovation and business with our passion for reproductive justice? And that was the starting point for Choice Compass.
Wharton Global Youth: Interesting. I love that you found your partner in one of our programs. I hear that story often. I think our community seems to inspire innovation. It’s been a year from that seed of an idea. How would you describe your mission today? Can you illustrate the evolution with a story or memory that propelled you forward with Choice Compass in the past year?
Sophie: Like I mentioned, when Henry and I started brainstorming, we immediately converged on the concept of supporting and educating woman in the new and complicated landscape of reproductive rights in this country. Like with any sort of business, we started with one idea, but as we did more research, we realized that there were several legal barriers with providing information about sensitive topics like the ones that we were focused on. So ultimately, we pivoted our model until we ended up with Choice Compass. And today, we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the next generation about reproductive justice. As part of that, we’ve launched our student ambassador program. And we have over 10 student ambassadors around the country, in different states that educate their peers about what’s happening in their community, and in the wider U.S. in relation to reproductive rights. Within the next few years, we’re hoping to grow the number of ambassadors into the hundreds.
Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned becoming particularly intrigued with an industry known as FemTech. I’ve heard of FinTech for financial technology. What exactly is FemTech and how is Choice Compass helping to raise awareness about the emergence of this industry?
Sophie: Yeah, that’s a great question. So FemTech, like you said, is an emerging industry. And the main focus of FemTech is to use technology to solve the gender inequalities that exist in today’s healthcare system. The sector includes a wide range of products that are involved in women’s health, for example, fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy, nursing care, and so much more. I say “emerging,” but the truth is that this industry is already huge. By some projections, it’s expected to hit a valuation of over $20 billion in 2030.
Part of what Choice Compass does is lead educational sessions for thousands of students around the country, not just about reproductive rights, but also about other issues in women’s health. For example, we did a session recently at the Maret School in Washington, D.C., which is my school. And we talked a little bit about polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, which is a chronic health condition that affects millions of women each year around the world. This is an issue that a lot of FemTech startups are actually looking to address. One notable one that comes to mind is Allara Health, which is a startup that is creating a comprehensive care solution for women suffering from PCOS. I actually had the opportunity to intern there for a couple months and it was incredible to witness the work that this startup is doing to connect women with this condition, and to create a community of women who are suffering from the same condition. And what Allara really does that I love is they focus on creating a sense of community between these women and using comprehensive care solutions to help them live the best life that they possibly can. So, in addition to chronic health conditions like PCOS, FemTech startups focus on a huge range of women’s health issues that are currently plaguing our society.
Wharton Global Youth: The FemTech company, the startup that you interned for, is it in the Washington area, or is this something in Silicon Valley? How did you get that opportunity?
Sophie: Allara Health is actually based out of New York, which is also a kind of a hotspot for FemTech companies recently. I started off by reaching out to the CEO of Allara, Rachel Blank. And she immediately responded to my message with the same amount of passion that I had for the company. I was telling her why I thought that this was such an incredible start-up idea. And she was just so happy to hear my perspective. And so, I got on board with Allara and I did some work with a marketing team creating a year-long social media campaign. And it was just an incredible experience and opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of the start-up world.
“Often the idea that you start with is not going to accomplish the goal that you have in mind. It requires several pivots and changes in order to get to a point where you can really see the change that you want to see.” – Sophie Bakshi
Wharton Global Youth: Sometimes people define entrepreneurship and innovation as a means for launching new products or services and technologies, like the startup you just mentioned. This is certainly true. In your experience, how does the entrepreneurial mindset align with education and raising awareness among your peers? We tend on Future of the Business World to define innovation very broadly. We definitely interview students who are starting nonprofits, or are starting companies with the triple bottom line, and you have a nonprofit. So, where’s the innovation in that? Where’s the entrepreneurship?
Sophie: Yeah, that’s a great question. What I found through the Wharton Global Youth programs that I participated in, and also just my general observation, is that innovation is fundamentally about teamwork, and bringing different perspectives to the table. And in that way, I find that Choice Compass creates a huge amount of innovation through our peer-to-peer discussions. Like I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest things we do is have our student ambassadors who are high schoolers, lead huge discussions with hundreds of their peers. And what I found that happens when you have students teaching other students is that there’s a sense of comfortability and community that forms. And what happens when that community is formed, is that some incredible discussions take place. And often these conversations that we have involve how we can use FemTech products and how we can innovate to solve a lot of the issues that are affecting women’s health and reproductive rights. I guess the bottom line is that teamwork sparks innovation, and awareness is a starting point for that. And that’s what Choice Compass does is create awareness about a lot of the issues that are affecting women in today’s society.
Wharton Global Youth: You are what we might call an official Wharton Global Youth citizen! You have engaged with our community in many ways, including our innovation program in San Francisco, Essentials of Finance, Future of the Business World online and then this summer you spent three weeks studying in Philadelphia during our Leadership in the Business World program. Where is Sophie in relation to business after all of these experiences? What are you collectively taking away from your deep dive into business summer programs?
Sophie: I feel like the biggest takeaway I’ve had from the Wharton Global Youth courses is just passion and drive. Witnessing so many students in the same room with the same excitement about business and innovation has really kindled that sense of excitement in me and passion for creating change and innovation and looking into the future of the business world. So that has really been my main takeaway. And it has really allowed me, like I said, to get so excited about what I’m doing and what I’m going to do in the future.
So, what I’m collectively taking away from the summer programs that I’ve done is that there’s hope. As I was going through the programs, it was an environment that often painted a bleak picture about the future of the business world, just because we discuss a lot of the issues that are currently plaguing our society. And so, you come out of it with a little bit of nervousness like, okay, what’s the future of the business world going to look like? Do we have hope? But having met some of the incredible students that I met at these courses, I now know that there is hope for the future of the business world. Gen Z has an incredible sense of innovation, and they’re driven by sustainability, which is going to be critical for our survival as a society. I find that adults often speak of Gen Z as if they’re super radical or entitled, and just often speak of Gen Z with a negative perspective. But I really believe that Gen Z is incredible. We are a generation with a huge drive to save our planet and to create a bright future for the generations that come after us. And that’s what I really love about Gen Z. I believe that we’re going to accomplish great things.
Wharton Global Youth: You’ve mentioned meeting so many other high school students interested in changing the world. What specifically do you feel your generation is bringing to the future of the business world? Based on your own qualitative research? How are they? And will they make an impact on people profits and planet?
Sophie: I believe that Gen Z has an incredible focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. One example that comes to mind when I think about DEI and Gen Z’s relation to it is when I was participating in the Essentials of Innovation course. Our final project was to create a start-up idea. And one of the teams I remember had created a product that helped deaf people to enter the workforce and to have the same opportunities as their hearing counterparts. And I just was always in awe of that idea and its focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I think that really alludes to Gen Z’s passion for helping marginalized communities be a part of the change that’s happening, because of the unique and diverse perspectives that those communities can bring.
Wharton Global Youth: What’s next for Choice Compass?
Sophie: We plan on expanding our student ambassador program. Like I said, we currently have 10 student ambassadors around the country. We hope to have over hundreds within the next couple years. And also, we want to create a showcase of some of the innovative ideas that are coming out of our discussions. Like I said earlier, we have a huge amount of ideas and innovation that is being sparked by some of the discussions that we’re hosting. And what we really want to do is create some sort of platform to showcase these ideas and some of the entrepreneurs that are coming out of our discussions.
Wharton Global Youth: Can you give me a specific example?
Sophie: In a high school session that we had a couple months ago, one of the topics that we were discussing was how when Roe v. Wade was overturned, the abortion laws in each state were completely different. And because of that, there was a general lack of knowledge about what the state of reproductive rights was in each state, and what the timeline for abortion was in each state. And this led to a lot of issues for women that weren’t educated on what their state allowed. And this led to a lot of legal issues. And so, one of the things that I was discussing with one of the students was how do we create a platform for people to have access to the information about when abortion becomes illegal in their state. And so, what this incredible student has gone out and done is developed a platform — I believe he’s still currently developing it — but he’s developing a platform to educate women around the country about what the individual laws are in their region, and what states actually allow abortion at specific points in pregnancy.
Wharton Global Youth: That brings up another question. A lot of times when we’re talking about women’s rights and championing the future for women, we think that we are the ones who are doing it, right. But it sounds like that’s actually a young man who is starting that innovative platform. What do you see in terms of both men and women getting involved in this conversation and really having impactful change?
Sophie: That’s a great question. Yeah, I was so happy to see a young man in one of our discussions. The truth is, usually these discussions are dominated by women, because it’s an issue that affects us. But I think it’s so important for everyone to be involved in this discussion, because men hold the majority of positions of power in our society right now. As unfortunate as that is, it’s the truth. So, in order to create change, we need men to back us up and to support our cause. Because without the support of everyone, we won’t be able to create actionable change.
Wharton Global Youth: And they also need to be aware of the issues, right? Speaking of which, your mission is to raise awareness about women’s health care and reproductive health. You have a captive audience right now. Sophie, what do you really want them to know?
Sophie: I guess what I really want the audience to know is that you don’t need a huge platform to enact change. All you need is drive and passion. If you start small and locally, through education initiatives, you can really change the way people view the world. And then you can scale and reach a huge audience. And also, I want the audience to know that pivoting is often essential and inevitable when you’re doing things like this. Like I said earlier, Choice Compass has gone through a huge number of pivots to get to where it is today. And while that can sometimes be frustrating and exhausting, it is crucial for you to accomplish the mission that you want to accomplish. Because often the idea that you start with is not going to accomplish the goal that you have in mind. It requires several pivots and changes in order to get to a point where you can really see the change that you want to see.
Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all my guests on Future of the Business World is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Sophie: Oh, that’s a great question. I guess if I had the ability to wave a magic wand, I would put a proportionate amount of woman in leadership roles and organizations. As I’m sure you know, there’s a huge women’s leadership gap. And I believe this gap is creating a tremendous loss of progress and innovation. And I think that putting women in leadership positions would create huge sustainable change. And, you know, a common statistic that’s often cited in relation to the women’s leadership gap is just this year, for the first time woman run over 10% of Fortune 500 companies. This is a huge milestone, but it is far from 50%, which is the proportionate amount of women in leadership that we should have and that I’m hoping to see in the future.
Wharton Global Youth: What do you think we bring to the table?
Sophie: I think women bring diversity in perspective. We deal with issues that truthfully men will never have to deal with. Some of the conditions that I was talking about earlier, PCOS, are conditions that predominantly affect women, and have a huge effect on millions of women throughout the country. Because we deal with issues that other populations don’t have to deal with, I think that we offer a new perspective and that we can help innovate to create positive change.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Answer these questions quickly.
What startup really fascinates you right now?
Sophie: One startup that I’m really fascinated by is Gabbi, which is a breast-cancer diagnostics startup that uses AI technology to catch signs of breast cancer super early on.
Wharton Global Youth: What is something unexpected, you’ve discovered about leadership?
Sophie: I guess that the first test of leadership comes when you have to overcome people’s preconceived notions about you, based on your identity. So how you look and behave can really influence people’s views of you before you’ve spoken a single word.
Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?
Sophie: I guess that I can argue about something that I’m passionate about forever. As my parents would say: big things come in small packages. So, I really pack a punch. I love to argue about things that I’m passionate about.
Wharton Global Youth: What is the next thing you are excited to learn?
Sophie: How to grow and scale an organization that stays true to its mission.
Wharton Global Youth: What would you be caught binge-watching at midnight?
Sophie: Oh, I think right now The Summer I Turned Pretty. Great show.
Wharton Global Youth: You’re starting your own business talk show. Who is your first guest and why?
Sophie: Erika James, the Dean of Wharton. I believe that I would love to have her as a guest because she embodies everything that I’ve talked about. And I’m always in awe of her charisma and passion as a leader.
Wharton Global Youth: Sophie Bakshi, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Sophie: Thank you so much for having me.
What is FemTech? Sophie Bakshi mentions a few companies in this space. Do you know of any startups in this growing sector of tech innovation? What, if anything, interests you about them?
Sophie believes that the power of her non-profit is to generate innovation through collaboration and brainstorming in groups. Does this fit with your beliefs about entrepreneurship? Do you agree or disagree?
Sophie says that her generation — Gen Z — fills her with hope for the future of the business world. Do you feel hopeful that some of the big challenges facing our world, including climate change and DEI, are in good hands? Why or why not?