Entrepreneurial advice for middle school girls: The Wallet Project
Although we as adults often consider ourselves the best teachers for children, there are times when the familiarity and familiarity of a peer can make young people more receptive to what they hear and more likely to hear what they really want to know, and not the lessons that adults find important. As the parent of adults in their twenties now, I can attest that advice for adults isn’t heard until much after high school.
I recently spoke to Kirthi Manivannian and Sarah Kathuria, the co-founders of The Wallet Project, an entrepreneurship education program for middle school students. Although (or maybe because!) They are young themselves, they have a great perspective on educating and running a business that caters to teenage girls.
Maria Jütten: Where are you based?
Sarah Kathurie: As of now, the Wallet Project is a digital platform to ensure that its resources are available to everyone around the world. Kirthi is from Rochester, Minnesota and I’m from Parkland, Florida so there are plans to keep the platform digital for now.
Jutes: What problem are you solving?
Kirthi Manivannan: In middle school, we found that there was no way for girls in this age group to explore the business field and its practical applications. We chose to focus specifically on middle school girls as it is at this age that children begin to explore their academic interests. It has been statistically proven that the proportion of female CEOs is significantly different compared to male CEOs. For this reason we have limited our target group to middle school girls.
Our mission is to provide an educational and inspirational platform for middle school girls to spark their interest in entrepreneurship by cultivating a healthy money mindset, learning proven entrepreneurial strategies, and adapting a growth mindset.
Jutes: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Kathurie: Our clients are girls who are in middle school and pursuing their academic interests. We reach them through advertising in our communities, using the Nextdoor app, asking Instagram influencers to promote our workshops on their platform, and by contacting local middle schools.
Jutes: How have past projects and / or experiences helped with this new project?
Manivannan: In middle school, we weren’t given the opportunity to explore the business field. We were pushed to research mostly STEM-related areas as our schools only offered things like science fairs and programming courses. As a result, we both felt lost in choosing an academic focus in high school because the STEM area didn’t appeal to us.
In 8th grade I got the opportunity to take part in an app competition for girls. Here I was able to create everything from a formal business plan to pitch and demo videos. That really sparked my interest in the business area. I was intrigued by the fact that the way you present and market an idea is so crucial to grabbing the attention of the audience or the target market. Through this experience I was able to help create the curriculum for our workshops and an action plan for building the wallet project platform.
Kathurie: When I realized that the business could be for me, I started looking for ways that would help me learn more about it. During my early high school years, I was able to win an internship with a company where I really learned the basics of entrepreneurship by helping me create pitch decks, formulate marketing strategies, and work with colleagues from around the world helped. It was then that I noticed how valuable these skills were not just in business, but for any career path one could choose. My previous experience has helped me to establish the branding for our platform and also to develop innovative ideas for growth.
Jutes: Who is on your team?
Manivannan: Our team consists of 4 people. We both create the content for the workshops we hold. During our workshops, at the end of the second day, we open the floor to questions related to business or finance issues from middle school students. We then host a monthly interview to answer these questions in a 20-45 minute YouTube video.
To make sure we were doing our best to keep all parts of this organization going, we decided to outsource the design creation and expansion to people we knew and could trust.
- Trupti Singh is the director of artistic design. She helps create content for our Instagram page when we are collaborating with another organization, interviewing a female entrepreneur or wanting to inform our audience about upcoming workshops.
- Madeeha Hanif is the expansion director. She will lead our upcoming ambassador program to bring a more diverse audience to our workshops. She also creates and manages our monthly newsletter.
We chose to keep our core team small to ensure the quality of our program as it allows us to work more collaboratively.
Kathuria: Currently we do not plan to make a profit as we want to keep this platform free and accessible to everyone.
Jutes: Startups are an adventure – what’s your favorite startup story?
Manivannan: Our favorite startup story is how Sara Blakely came to start Spanx. The way she used her surrounding resources to create a product that would create a smoother look while wearing white pants inspired us to consider all ideas as good ideas. This has encouraged us to turn our idea of starting the Wallet Project into an actual organization.
Jutes: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Kathurie: We measure our success by the fact that the students in our workshops develop an interest in our teaching. Even if a student shows interest and understands how basic business knowledge can be used in any future career path they may choose to pursue, we would consider it a success. We combine success with what the student takes away and can apply to his or her life through discussions in our workshops, instead of just focusing on memorizing technical terms and terms and conditions.
Our way of measuring success ties in with one of our most popular success stories, that of Amanda Doamaral, the founder and CEO of Fiveable. Amanda was an AP teacher who felt that she was not having sufficient influence over her students and that the teaching methods she was being forced to use were ineffective. She knew she wanted to create something that would enable her to support as many students as possible while using different techniques that weren’t normally used in school. While Amanda went through many ups and downs during her journey, we both love that she wasn’t afraid to take the risk of creating something meaningful for her that she knew would affect the lives of children around the world. Since its launch in 2018, Fiveable has grown immensely in popularity, influencing millions of children around the world.
Jutes: Any tips for early stage founders?
Manivannan: In creating this platform, we needed a source of credibility. We had to reach out to self-made female entrepreneurs to validate our curriculum and answer specific questions on the subject that we may not be able to answer. This makes us much better informed on the subject and we want everyone to know that you are not afraid to seek help.
Don’t be discouraged by slow starts and people who don’t take you as seriously as they should. As two high school students, it is easy for many to disregard our work or not take our mission seriously. In the past we have arranged meetings with many entrepreneurs who either constantly postpone new appointments or do not show up for the meeting at all. If we had stopped after being left in the dark, we would not have been able to grow to the extent we are today.
Jutes: What is the long-term vision for your company?
Kathurie: We are in the process of creating an ambassador program to bring a more diverse audience to our quarterly workshops.
We believe that implementing this ambassador program will not only help in student recruitment, but will also help build a strong community of middle school girls who will actively support each other as they learn more about entrepreneurship, growth, and money thinking. Since our platform is completely virtual, we plan to have ambassadors around the world to help spread the importance of women’s education about business and finance.
So inspiring on different levels, plus the Spanx story is my personal favorite. Congratulations on such an important endeavor. #Further.