Friday, December 1, 2023

Shining a Light on Health and Fitness in the South Side of Chicago

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It does our Global Youth heart good when high school students find inspiration from our Future of the Business World podcast episodes. It was in a June 2023 comment on a past podcast transcript that we first discovered this month’s guest, Carter Chang. He wrote: “Alana, you emphasized and credited a lot of your success to your “fearless attitude.” I am in awe from hearing how an initial cold email leads to connections and partnerships. As an entrepreneur myself, I could not relate more.” And with that, we had to hear more about Carter’s passion for fitness and health — and the very personal family challenge that moved him to action. What are food deserts and food swamps and how do they relate to equity? What does it mean to scale an organization? How can research help to advance an entrepreneurial mission? Carter discusses all this and more in our latest Wharton Global Youth Future of the Business World podcast. 

Be sure to click on the arrow above to listen to the podcast! An edited version of the conversation 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. Global Youth’s mission is to connect high school students and teachers worldwide with the strength of Wharton’s business education. Our monthly podcast invites listeners into our conversations with inspiring young innovators; teens who love business and are figuring out how to channel their passion into changing the world.

Today, we continue to ride the wave of entrepreneurial students we met this summer during our on-campus and online business programs. Carter Chang, a high school senior from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Illinois, U.S., studied with Wharton Global Youth in our Leadership in the Business World program. LBW students get the chance to pitch their business ideas to the class. It was there, as well as among the pages of our Comment and Win contest, that we began to learn about Carter’s fitness program Yeast Whey, spelled W H. E. Y.

Carter, welcome to Future of the Business World!

Carter Chang: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such an honor to be here.

Carter Chang.

Wharton Global Youth: Entrepreneurial thinking is often sparked by our surroundings and circumstances. Would you mind sharing what happened in your life at 14 that motivated you to embrace a healthier lifestyle?

Carter: Back in September of 2020, when COVID was still relatively new because we still had online classes, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This diagnosis really sparked change in my life and had an impact on my family, because we had no previous family history with cancer. This correlation between cancer and our family’s nutrition and lifestyle habits had its impact on me and sparked a new side of me. I took charge of taking that role of deciding what goes into my family’s bodies and how we act around diet and exercise. Because it was quarantine, I had a lot of time to exercise and run. Feeling the impact of eating healthy and feeling these nutritional benefits from changing our diets allowed me to live out the benefits of running and feeling good and living a healthier lifestyle.

It wasn’t until late spring of 2021, when I recognized this appreciation that I have for this lifestyle. [It was] the end of ninth grade, when my mom beat cancer, and she beat cancer with this new changed lifestyle. I fell in love with the way that I felt and this whole new lifestyle that our family adopted. Ever since then, health and fitness have been consumed by me, and it has become a massive part of my identity. This love for health and fitness and the way it makes me feel is in essence at the core of Yeast Whey. Being able to provide that feeling and that opportunity of this healthy lifestyle to everyone.

Wharton Global Youth: Well, thank you for sharing that. And I’m very happy to hear that your mom is doing well. As you were just alluding to, your health mission went beyond you working out in the gym and planking for more than an hour at a time. How did you begin to use your growing health and fitness knowledge to help your classmates in your community?

Carter: Like I mentioned, health and fitness really did consume me. It was everything that was on my mind and truly I’d engage in every health and fitness content possible. When my friends would ask me what I’m doing today or how I’m doing, I just talked about the different exercises or things that I’m eating, and I tried to influence them to get on it as well. And it did work. I saw a lot of impact through my inner circle of my immediate family, my cousins and my friends who would ask me how I’m doing. A lot of people started to find inspiration from my lifestyle change and started to take care of themselves as well, which was awesome.

And then, in terms of the community, Yeast Whey started after I had had a lot of personal experience and appreciated the benefits of this new lifestyle. So, in essence at the core, it is always driven by the love and appreciation I have for this lifestyle. But I also recognized the lack of nutritional resources within my school community. In the Southside of Chicago, there aren’t many nutritional resources. And so, this community alongside thousands of other food deserts and food swamps in the world, really have it unfair. Being able to live out this healthy life and experience the different lifestyles that I was talking about is an unequal opportunity for communities within these regions. And so, I developed Yeast Whey to share this lifestyle to everyone, and I geared it towards kids.

Wharton Global Youth: What does Yeast Whey look like today? Tell us about it.

Carter: Yeast Whey has three core facets, the first one being the nutritional-education side. This is where Yeast Whey goes into local farmer’s markets and gives inspirational talks, engaging with community members. I found that being in a market surrounded by fresh produce, and the community market being in a central position of the community, really gives me the platform to influence children and influence people that walk by and introduce them to this realm of health and fitness and what it means to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy.

The second facet is the fitness-education side. This is where Yeast Whey holds semester-long courses in different charter schools and schools. This is all about teaching and influencing children on physical exercise and what it means to exercise outside, or just what it means to exercise and take care of your body. And then the third facet is the community-outreach side. Yeast Whey holds events that collectively engage the community, while shining a light on health and fitness.

Wharton Global Youth: I find it fascinating that your program is grounded in academic research. Can you tell us about your mentoring experience with your high school chemistry teacher, whom I guess was at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, and how that fueled your mission toward Yeast Whey? And also, you later worked with a professor at the University of Chicago. How did that research enrich your enterprise?

Carter: In 10th grade, when we were back in person, I took an independent study with my chemistry teacher. In this opportunity, students are able to research a topic more in depth that they find interesting. My topic, of course, was the science behind nutrition and fitness. My chemistry teacher was the perfect person to find supervision from, as he had the background and he provided insight into the science behind different proteins, vitamins, minerals, etc. This science research side really contributed to the Yeast Whey curriculum, because when I was developing it in ninth grade, I first just used a lot of personal experiences. And that is truly a big part of Yeast Whey as well, because being able to influence children stems from being able to connect with them. And so, being relatable and telling stories is a big part of Yeast Whey, while also adding that science side to it added a lot to Yeast Whey.

In terms of the University of Chicago economics professor that I worked with, I actually interned under Economics Professor John List at the University of Chicago. Before this internship, what introduced me to Professor List’s work was his book, The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale. In this book, Professor List talks about how to scale a successful idea for impact. And he talks a lot about the different variables that go into successful scaling, while also covering variables that could potentially negatively impact your idea, such as false positives, or not knowing your non-negotiables. His book made me reflect on my idea of Yeast Whey. And he made me consider different aspects of my organization and different ways of how to grow my idea and impact as many people as possible.

For the work that I did under Professor List, interns were originally taught Stata and R coding, and we used this coding language to research case studies in the world. I chose to study the case where annual income levels were compared to the amount of cardio performed. My results really brought me back to why I started Yeast Whey to begin with, because my regressions and models output correlations that demonstrated how higher annual income levels had significantly more correlations with cardio performance. This encapsulates the issue that Yeast Whey is trying to solve, which is providing equal opportunity to all regardless of income level. This internship with Professor List showed me the economic side of what I’m trying to combat and, along with his book, really made me reflect on Yeast Whey.

“To me, entrepreneurship is the ability to bring an idea to fruition and impact people through it…Scaling my ideas and my positive experiences through my entrepreneurship is scaling a lifestyle.”

Wharton Global Youth: What do you mean by scale?

Carter: I mean reaching as wide of an impact as possible and reaching as many people as possible. The global issue that Yeast Whey fights is not just one unique in my community, but an issue that is in thousands of communities around the world. So, [it’s about] being able to scale and reach as wide of an audience as possible.

Wharton Global Youth: Particularly during the pandemic, but I guess in general, obesity has become a big challenge among today’s youth. What can you tell us from the frontlines of this fight? What are you seeing out there?

Carter: After the pandemic started to clear up, I saw a switch from the way children acted in the sense that during the pandemic, they were isolated. One of the primary ways that children are able to get physical activity is from group activities and team sports. And so, being isolated from this and being deprived of this, I saw an attitude of people wanting to go on their phones, or just do individual activities. That’s where Yeast Whey [comes in] — bringing that excitement and influence back into the child’s desire to move and get active. When I was teaching a course at Metrosquash (a Chicago organization that promotes fitness), I initially ran physical evaluations to see where all the students were. [I tested] pushups, squats and different other variables and how fast the students were. And so initially, one of the students was not willing to attempt any of the evaluation, due to their inability to complete any of these exercises. And by the end of the course, after all the different talks, activities, etc., this student was able to crush their evaluation. And the student was able to do over 10 pushups and 20 squats, which was truly incredible impact.

Wharton Global Youth: This summer in our Comment and Win contest, which you participated in, you said that entrepreneurship has the ability to scale a way of life. What did you mean by that?

Carter: To me, entrepreneurship is the ability to bring an idea to fruition and impact people through it. And speaking personally from Yeast Whey, that is, in essence, what I’ve done and I’m working to do. So, me scaling my ideas and my positive experiences through my entrepreneurship is me scaling a lifestyle.

Wharton Global Youth: How do you measure success? Do you feel you’re moving the needle on youth embracing a healthy active lifestyle? You gave that example before, but I’m wondering if you really feel as though you’re making a difference out there in the world?

Carter: Speaking honestly, the lack of resources for fitness and nutrition is a global issue that is too big for just one person to tackle. And so, I feel like this is where that scaling really comes in. And this is why scaling is super necessary in order to provide nutritional resources to all people. I measure success by just getting the child in the door and having them conscious of the world and the realm of health and fitness that’s out there and being able to introduce them to the initial parts and hopefully sway them in a way that they would hope to continue this lifestyle journey.

Wharton Global Youth: By lack of resources, you mean the food swamps and food deserts? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Carter: Food deserts are areas in which there is a lack of nutritional resources within a wide range of community. This is where it is difficult to access these different supermarkets or different opportunities for nutritional resources. Food swamps are where there is an overly saturated and over-concentrated area with many fast-food restaurants and just unhealthy restaurants. They are sort of “consuming” these healthy, nutritional resources that are more expensive than the cheap, fast, efficient McDonald’s, Taco Bells, Wendy’s, etc. The food swamps and food deserts that I mentioned are prevalent in the South Side of Chicago, where Yeast Whey is located. Seeing these issues, that is truly why Yeast Whey is trying to provide access to these different communities.

Wharton Global Youth: Let’s talk about the infrastructure of Yeast Whey. I think you have chapters in different states. Could you talk about that? Also, you’ve partnered with organizations to bring your fitness mission to the Chicago community. What does that look like?

Carter: For chapters, that really brings me back to scaling at the core of Yeast Whey, and the impact that I hope to make [through] scale. Both the chapters [are about] being able to integrate Yeast Whey into different Los Angeles markets. [These chapters] are all a part of this scale mission that I have for impacting children through Yeast Whey and [reaching] as many communities as possible.

[This] also connects to Organic Oneness, which is the Chicago nonprofit that I work with. A brief story to share about how I met Organic Oneness. So, Organic Oneness was on Channel Five news. And I saw Syda Taylor, the owner of this nonprofit. It was for their Martin Luther King Day Day of Action, where they painted murals in Chicago. They had so many volunteers come out that she had to turn people away. The amount of impact that Syda had with Organic Oneness has really inspired me. I went on her website, and I saw that she also fights for health and wellness, which is the thing that I’m so passionate about. Yeast Whey’s values really aligned with [those of] Organic Oneness. And the reason why Syda got into health and wellness to begin with is because she is a breast cancer survivor. And she felt the impact of health and fitness as well. So, I cold emailed her and we set up a Zoom meeting and we formed a connection. From there, we sat down and have held joint community events and community camps. Syda is a great connection to explore this realm of impact through health and fitness.

Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned LA for your chapters. Do you have others as well?

Carter: Los Angeles and New York are the areas [and Chicago]. The goal was for Yeast Whey to hit these three primary target cities.

Wharton Global Youth: As an LBW student, Leadership in the Business World, we know you love business. What has building Yeast Whey taught you about business, networking, innovating, all those things?

Carter: Definitely proactivity and advocacy. If you’re passionate about a belief, you should truly do whatever it takes to chase after it. In starting Yeast Whey, I was just a 14-year-old kid pitching my idea to give talks at farmer’s markets. And it sort of sounds suspicious [because of my age] from the point of view of a farmer’s market. I sent [more than] 20 cold emails, and it only took one response. And [with] that one response, I made sure [to go] out of my way to make as much impact as possible and show how passionate I am about this mission. I physically walked over a mile after school to their doors and made sure that I introduced myself and put a face to the name. It is that same advocacy that allowed for Yeast Whey to grow significantly by cold emailing Syda Taylor from Organic Oneness. So many opportunities have happened because of this advocacy and proactivity. I truly believe it is an essential tool for a future business student and anyone in life.

Wharton Global Youth: Help me and help our listeners. What is the best health and fitness advice you will leave us with?

Carter: Love what you do. I always say that you can’t follow a diet if you resent it and want to cheat on it every single moment. I used to have cravings as well. And whenever I would take a cheat day, I would feel so bad about myself and I would physically feel sluggish and tired and not good. That made me love what I do and love the way that I feel when I engage in this healthy lifestyle.

Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. I’m going to follow that. Alright, let’s wrap up with our lightning-round questions. Please try to answer these as quickly as you can.

Something about you that would surprise us?

Carter: I love to dance. I danced in front of my entire school for a speech I gave in seventh grade.

Wharton Global Youth: What kind of dance?

Carter: It was a hip-hop dance.

Wharton Global Youth: Your definition of a healthy meal?

Carter: a balanced plate of proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates and fiber.

Wharton Global Youth: The last junk food you ate?

Carter: It was August of 2021. When we were dropping off my older brother, I had a burger from In-n-Out.

Wharton Global Youth: Wow, that is a long time. I’m impressed. A startup that really intrigues you?

Carter:  Alana Andrews’s Swey.

Wharton Global Youth: Very good. She was a past podcast guest on Future of the Business World and now a Wharton student. What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?

Carter: Never having certainty on the outcome of an event or an action.

Wharton Global Youth: How do you define success?

Carter: Recognizing a goal and constantly working toward it to achieve it, or learning something from it.

Wharton Global Youth: You are starting your own business talk show, who is your first guest and why?

Carter: I’d have Professor List as my first talk show guest. He really taught me a lot about business and econ.

Wharton Global Youth: Great. Carter, thank you for sharing your innovative spirit on Future of the Business World.

Carter: Thank you so much for having me.

Conversation Starters

What does it mean to scale an organization and how is Carter Chang achieving this goal?

In what ways did academic research help to inform Yeast Whey’s mission?

Do you live in a food desert or food swamp? How does this impact your nutrition and decision-making? Tell us your story in the Comment section of this article.

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