In Conversation with Charlotte Kerpen, Serial Entrepreneur and Podcaster
When did you catch the entrepreneurship bug?
When I was 8 years old, I stumbled upon a problem at my local organic Farmers’ Market. The market is the only organic Farmers’ Market on Long Island, and has been for years– and they’re very strict about what can be sold there. They had dozens of booths that had food vendors, but nothing to drink! They wouldn’t allow bottled water to be sold, and there were no certified organic beverages that met the standards of the market. Well, at 8 years old, when you get your fresh sourdough bread, you need something to wash it down, right? But there were no options at all. I went to the market organizers and researched the requirements for an organic beverage. I received permission to launch my first business – CK Lemonade, which is to this day the only approved beverage sold at the market.
Which entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
I love entrepreneurship because it allows for problems to be solved. And, as we’ve seen this year with COVID, we have serious problems across the globe. I am most inspired by entrepreneurs who are focused on social good. I love Meena Harris’ Phenomenal brand, which sells a variety of simple clothing items that bring awareness to social and cultural causes. When you buy a shirt, you know where your money goes. When you wear a Phenomenal shirt, you are helping to advance the causes of women, and particularly marginalized women, across the globe. That means something. I also love Molly Hayward’s story of the founding of Cora. Cora is focused on ending period poverty- she founded an entire lifestyle brand whose purpose is to provide sustainable menstrual products to those in developing countries. This is an example of an issue I knew nothing about until discovering Molly and her story. Those who use business to change the world are the entrepreneurs who inspire me most.
Speaking of social good, I know you are very active politically, as the first female National Chair of the High School Democrats of America. I know you saw that as an entrepreneurial journey – tell us about that!
Well, here was another problem that needed solving, although the solution wasn’t really to start a business. In the history of the High School Democrats of America, a woman was never elected National Chair. In fact, no woman had ever made it to the top of ranked choice voting! This is an amazing, progressive organization, but we as women were underrepresented at the top. I was quite terrified to run, especially since I knew that historically, the odds were not in my favor. But I ran on an entrepreneurial platform– my slogan was “Think Big, Do Bigger”. Entrepreneurs don’t just dream, they make it happen. By focusing on action over words, I was able to win the election, and I had the honor of representing the HSDA as its first national chair in my senior year of high school. And I really learned about business as a result. Running a campaign is a lot like running a business, really.
What is something that caught you off guard in your entrepreneurship journey?
I never would have expected to be taking skills I learned through business in other contexts. Because I got started with entrepreneurship at such a young age, I’ve definitely been built to know that business is everywhere.Whether it be using strategic communication in a classroom or work setting, running a campaign, or leading groups of organizers, I’ve learned how to use smart business thinking through it all.
I can’t imagine being a senior in high school in the age of COVID-19. Tell me what it’s like for someone who is a young go getter like you – someone who is always on the move, to be stuck at home?
I consider myself very lucky to have a roof over my head, and enough food to eat. Folks are really suffering, and the world has a lot of healing to do. That being said, in my own high school bubble, of course it’s been hard. The lack of socialization is difficult, online school is difficult, going through the process of applying to colleges without getting to really experience tours and information sessions is difficult. But again, it helped me see a problem that needs solving. 64% of teens believe that the experience of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on our generation’s mental health. That led me to continue my involvement with our school’s mental health club throughout our online period, and make sure our message was spread more than ever. We gained a large following on Instagram, and acted as nice reminder for our school community that we will always be there for eachother.
What is next for you?
Besides continuing my work with HSDA and finishing up senior year, most recently, I soft-launched a podcast called Business Better. It features entrepreneurs who are changing the world and is available on Spotify and is launching on Apple Podcasts next week. This was really important for me, because I want to learn from the best of the best, and these guests have really wowed me with their passion, and their commitment to changing the world for the better. I’ve just started recording, and I can’t wait to continue, and to promote the episodes when we officially launch at the end of the month. Also, I can’t wait to join the Entreprenistas College Ambassador program! 🙂