Little about Jess Stokes’ path to Wharton or Wonder Year, her new company, is traditional.
Jess considered taking the psychology PhD track, but instead helped ghostwrite a book for a real estate entrepreneur. She joined an NGO he founded, and then started work at an international research consulting firm. Realizing “selling paper towels” wasn’t for her, she found a unique opportunity: teaching entrepreneurship to high schoolers.
“If you teach kids how to be entrepreneurs, they can do anything,” Jess says, “They can adapt.”
Wonder Year is a community for young women who care about business. Its mission is to seed a generation of female entrepreneurs and investors through courses and mentorship. And, unlike programs with similar aims, Wonder Year is entirely online.
“It’s like a cross over between LinkedIn, Coursera, and Girl Scouts,” Jess says half joking.
The company features a trove of online learning videos that teach key themes. These include entrepreneurship, investing and passion-finding – a category that will help girls uncover “what actually gets them excited.” Like business school, the seminars include interactive case studies. At Wonder Year, however, these studies feature the companies of young female founders.
"I came to business school and felt like I started with absolutely no map,” Jess says, “[These courses] are the basics.”
Wonder Year’s mentors are another key element of the platform. They provide one-on-one conferencing and guidance for users. Currently, all the mentors are other Wharton MBA women, with specialties from tech to healthcare. They’re also all young. Jess wants participants to readily see themselves in their teachers.
Though Wonder Year is pre-revenue, the company offers a three-tiered membership. The “Wonder Girl” membership ($5/month) provides access to the video library, discounts on mentor meetings, and invites to live events. In addition to these elements, the “Founder” membership ($25/month) includes access to monthly mentor group meetings and invites to pitch competitions. The top tier subscription, “Investor” ($45/month), builds on the previous benefits and also enables users to invest in female-founded startups.
Each level helps Wonder Year address the UN Sustainable Development Goal of “Gender Equality.”
It’s hard to have a conversation with Jess and not feel that she’s a person who cares. She rescues foster animals and volunteers often. Through the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, she worked at the Philadelphia Zoo.
“There’s something about me that wants to change the world,” Jess says.
She cites her parents as early forces that pushed her to be curious and empathic. Her high school, The Shipley School, also instilled a lasting emphasis on service.
When she started Wonder Year, someone mentioned that it could be a non-profit. “No,” Jess said, “It’s important to me that it is a for-profit business with a socially good cause.” She wanted her company to embody its mission, “that women can start profitable companies that solve [societal] problems.”
And at each step of the way Jess considers her company’s impact. She weighs Wonder Year’s price-point against the financial barrier it might be for some. Jess also understands that those without stable internet cannot access her platform. “I know there’s a segment of girls out there” who Wonder Year cannot reach. “I want to serve them too one day.”
In the short-term, Wonder Year is looking to increase membership and mentor engagement. The platform is meant to be cyclical, where the 16-year-old who was once a participant can become a mentor. Further down the line, Jess wants Wonder Year to create entrepreneurship programs in schools globally. They will also host in-person events to connect their network of future businesswomen.
“The more students who can get exposed to this entrepreneurship education, the better off our world is going to be.”
1. Favorite word?
2. Least favorite word?
3. New quarantine hobby?
I adopted a kitten.
4. Worst advice you’ve ever gotten for starting your business?
My dad’s suggesting that I move back home and open my HQ there.
5. Best advice you’ve ever gotten for starting your business?
Don’t try to start a school a month before September.
6. How do you like your eggs?
Scrambled with cheese.
7. What is your dream of happiness?
I want to have a home in a sunny place with lots of land and lots of rescue animals. And I’d like to have a cup of sweet tea.
8. What is your motto?
Focus on the things you can control.
9. If you could meet one person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
10. One issue you would have liked to help address by the time you retire?
Female representation in entrepreneurship.