MetroFocus: May 3, 2023

Sophia Bush, known for her starring roles on the iconic tv shows One Tree Hill and Chicago PD, along with her business partner, Nia Batts, is leading the charge in a new type of business approach, called social entrepreneurship. The two women have been working together for years to invest in projects that make a positive impact on society and uplift women across the country. From creating a new type of hair salon that caters to all women, to investing in America’s smaller, and often forgotten cities, to partnering with the first fully women funded, owned, and operated bank in the country. Sophia Bush joins MetroFocus to discuss how high-profile investors can leverage their fame, business experience, and access to capital to help others.

Then, for the first time ever, a group of everyday civilians will be going to space to orbit the moon.  The SpaceX expedition, known as dearMoon, is being paid for by Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who will not only be going on the trip himself, but who has also selected eight others to join him, free of charge.  Over one million people applied for the six-day journey, all of them artists without any prior experience in outer space.  The eight lucky winners were those who Maezawa believed could push the boundaries of their respective fields and most help society in some way by being a part of this expedition.  One of the artists chosen, Brendan Hall, is a New York-based documentary filmmaker, and he joins MetroFocus to discuss the upcoming 2023 dearMoon mission.


Jenna: Tonight from TV star to social entrepreneur, actor Sophia Bush shares her powerful next act, convincing investors to back the greater good.

Eight lucky people have won the chance of a lifetime.

A trip around the moon.

One of the winners joins us as he prepares to report where no civilian has gone before.

'MetroFocus' starts right now.

This is 'MetroFocus,' with Rafael Pi Roman, Jack Ford and Jenna Flanagan.

'MetroFocus' is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

Filomen M. D'Agostino Foundation.

The Peter G Peterson fund.

Bernard and Denise Schwartz.

Barbara Hope Zuckerberg.

Jody and John Arnhold.

Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

The Ambrose Monell Foundation.

Estate of Roland Karlen.

♪ Jenna: Good evening and welcome to 'MetroFocus.'

I am Jenna Flanagan.

You probably know Sophia Bush from her starring roles on iconic TV shows.

What you might not know is Sophia is leading the charge in a new type of business approach called social entrepreneurship.

Along with her business partner, Sophia has been working to invest in projects that make a positive impact on society and uplift women across the country.

From creating a new hair salon that caters to Black and white women, partnering with the first fully woman-funded and owned and operated bank in the country, they are demonstrating how high-profile investors can leverage their fame, business, experience and access to capital to help others.

Joining me now with more of the impactful work that she and her business partner are doing is Sophia Bush.

Sophia is an actress, activist and entrepreneur.

Welcome to 'MetroFocus.'

Sophia: Thank you so much for having me.

Jenna: Let's start from the top.

Social entrepreneurship.

That might sound a little like an oxymoron to people.

From your perspective, what is that?

Sophia: For far too long, we have had this idea in society that you've either be successful and a selfish person or be dedicated to making the world around you a better place but she will probably not do that well in life.

Not only do we know that not to be true because we have incredible examples of people who have done good and done well, but I think more and more, you see people -- we are in this information age.

We understand more about what is going on in the world around us and how interconnected we are, people are waking up to the fact that if our community is healthy, we as individuals are healthy.

If our community is well-funded, we as individuals do well and live better lives.

My business partner and I met in our mid-20s.

We were at a social impact conference.

Most people in my day job line of work were not doing that 15 years ago.

She cracked a joke about why the girl from TV was there taking notes like a court stenographer.

That community is where we were socially raised together.

We grew up looking at people changing the world and decided we wanted to move the needle in that direction in whatever small way we could.

Jenna: One of the things I found so impactful about learning about the work you guys are doing is the focus on women.

First off, why is it important?

Some people might say there are so many people that need access to capital.

Why focus on women entrepreneurs?

Sophia: We talk a lot about the pay gap.

For every $1 men make, women make less.

Within our group, there are also disparities.

White women make less than men and Black women make less than white women and Latina women make less than everybody.

We know when you invest in women, you invest in families, invest in education systems and all communities.

It is not me being shady to men, it is math -- which is not emotional or partial -- proves when you invest in women, they spend their money different than men do.

When we think about the truths we all share, you and I share as two women, in New York and L.A., there are things we have in common.

When we became friends, we were really offended as a white woman and a Black woman that both worked in media, we could not get our hair done anywhere.

We looked at the fact that industry, there are gaps for women in industry and services, which means we do not get to be together.

Where do you spend time opening up about your life and who you are like you do in a hair salon?

If you and I, for example, never get to sit in a hair salon together, do we get to learn each other's stories?

What started as this desire to change hair and the way that we could all be socially integrated in the impactful ways let us to Small Business, Small Business financing, lending, and that was looked at the ways women were held out of this world to access to capital, you find a disparity for us as a gender group and disparities down racial lines.

To us, that is simply unacceptable.

Women are the number 1 creators of Small Business and that group happens to be led by Black women.

If women are only accessing a small amount of capital and women of color only access a fraction of that capital, -- the more businesses we have, the more money people are making.

The more everyone is flourishing in the larger our economy grows.

They say clichés are clichés because they are true.

We are very into figuring out how to push forward.

Jenna: You being in L.A. and me being in New York, it is interesting you took a specific interest in smaller locations that get overlooked, in flyover areas.

Why is that important?

Sophia: There is this idea of underrepresented founders.

That could be founders of color, queer founders and it is underrepresented geography.

You hear about venture capital happening in Silicon Valley, moving to Austin, all of the tech people moving to Miami.

These are big, big places.

There is incredible innovation happening around the country.

My partner grew up in Detroit.

It is my home away from home.

Her dad and my mom are my bonus parents.

I have spent so much time in Michigan and I love Detroit.

I love the Renaissance of a great American city.

It is incredibly important to make sure that native Detroiters have seats their city is being reinvested in.

That is why we wanted to open our salon in Detroit.

I fell in love with Oklahoma because that is where my husband grew up and we have done a lot of work in Tulsa and we chose to have our wedding there.

The people regrowing Black Wall Street and this incredible community that is so vibrant and pursuing a brighter future in the wake of tragedy while holding onto history, those are the sorts of places that inspire us most.

Jenna: As you speak about all of this, I wonder -- finances is like, that is an area known for men being strong in and vibrant and leaders.

Money is not something a lot of women are taught to engage in, understand or thrive in.

Just your take on creating a space where women, hopefully without shame, can learn some things that might not have been encouraged to learn about finances and capital.

Sophia: The idea that finance is a man's game, there will be some people who roll their eyes at this, that is a vestige of the patriarchy.

My grandmother could not have a credit card or sign a lease on an apartment without a husband as a cosigner, giving her permission to have her own financial account.

It is not that women are not good at finance or math.

The classic photo of the data scientist standing next to all the books of code that helped us go to space.

A young lady with big hair and big glasses, she did that way back then.

We are incredibly capable in these arenas but we have been historically held out of them.

In those arenas is where power is held.

Power in this country has historically been held by men, historically by older white men.

It is important for us to understand as women that we fully take control of finances, if we learn how to be our own versions of financial ninjas in our lives, we are growing our own power.

It inspires us.

It is a reason we chose to take on strategic advisors to the first women's bank.

It is crazy that the first women's bank was only opened in America in 2021.

I am so inspired that it was the brainchild of the women who ran the Small Business Association under President Obama.

They said we are working on supporting small business owners across America.

At the literal level of the presidential administration, we are seeing a gap for women and we have to fix this.

They have made that their mission and their work and we get to be a part of it and it is cool to hang out with Billie Jean King because she is a literal legend.

She is an advisor, as well.

You look at the worlds of sports and finance that women are staking their claim in and making their mark, using the women's basketball finals getting higher ratings than anything else in college sports this year and you see women who run financial management firms outperforming men.

It is important for us to be in the spaces and to understand that financial freedom is societal freedom.

We want to figure out how to speed up that freedom for as many people as possible with tools and opportunities for access that did not exist until very recently.

Jenna: For any women in the tri-state area who would be watching this interview and interested in what it is you are doing, if you had a piece of advice or a place to start, you have that idea but you do not know what the first step is, what advice would you give?

Sophia: I would say, certainly, look for the places you can be mentored.

Find out what sort of grants are available in your state and your city for small business owners with ideas.

So many of the grants you can apply for can help applicants go through programs to strengthen their business plans.

We would also say please visit us online.

Look at the first women's bank.

Come say a digital hello.

Make sure you are following us on social media.

We are building a curriculum and free tools to offer women wonderful help with financial work and also financial education at no charge.

Those are some of the resources I really believe in.

I love that there are phenomenal women who give great advice on Instagram.

Feel free to see who I am sharing, if you like.

I would say remember that it is something anyone can learn and something everyone deserves to learn.

It is a really wonderful place to start, to stake your claim in the world around us.

For the first time ever, a group of civilians will be going to the moon.

The expedition is being paid for by a Japanese billionaire entrepreneur, who has selected eight daring individuals to join him in this intrepid flight, free of charge.

Over one million people applied for the six day journey.

And the eight lucky winners were those who made him believe they would be most likely to push the boundaries of their respective fields and help society in a unique way as a result of participating in this unique mission.

He was born in Connecticut and is now based in New York City is a documentary filmmaker and joins us now.


Good to be here.

Rafael: I do not know if I envy you or I'm glad I am not you.

The audience will decide.

Let me start with this.

Could you elaborate on what this project is all about?

Could you tell us how it came to be and a little more about what its mission is?


It comes from his vision for this.

I cannot speak for him, but based on what he has done in his life, he wants to push the boundaries of culture, art, his own personal comfort zones.

He has been to the International Space Station as a private space tourist.

I think he had a vision that we had not seen artists and creatives go up into outer space.

Some of his original language behind this was one of Beethoven, what if Mozart had gone up and done something like this?

What kind of work would they have created?

I do not think I am Mozart but this opportunity for artists to have a new perspective and for all of us to bring our own walks of life to this is really unique.

It is the first civilian mission to deep space.

We are going around the moon and the mission is to create work in our respective fields, from music to photography to film, that brings this experience back to people and hopefully impact our planet.

Rafael: Take us back to the beginning of all this for you.

First of all, how did you find out about this project?

Why did you want to go?

Were you one of those kids who always want to be an astronaut and go to outer space?

Brendan: What kind of shocks me is I was not.

Personally as a filmmaker and photographer, being under the stars and filming time-lapses and seeing the Milky Way were some of the most profound experiences of my life.

Do I love the night sky and am I filled with wonder from this?



I was online one day and saw this in an article.

I barely remember stumbling upon it and I just applied, thinking I do not know what this is.

I do not know if this was real.

What could possibly happen?

In my life, I try to take the philosophy of go for the better story and push my comfort zone.

I applied.

I could have gotten a coffee or done anything different that day and I might not have ever seen this.

To think of where it has already led, it gives me shivers thinking about it.

Rafael: That is amazing.

How did you become one of the chosen ones?

Why were you picked of over the one million applicants?

Brendan: That is a great question.

People ask me, not to offend you, but why you?

It is the fairest question you could ask because it is such an important opportunity.

Part of it is the work I create.

I am a director, cinematographer and editor.

I make films about nature and specifically the human connection to nature.

We learn a lot about places and feel them through someone experiencing them.

That was the spirit I wanted to bring to the mission.

I've seen night skies at national parks in the United States and I have been all around the world in some really remote places.

I just wanted to bring that human story to this.

We have seen imagery of the moon and we have seen imagery of the earth and this amazing legacy of astronauts going up there.

This new group of civilians experiencing this in the transformation we have before and after I think will be a really powerful story.

I think part of it was my work and part of it was the idea, I said whether it is me or someone else, this is a human story and I hope we can capture it like that.

Rafael: Is part of your mission to document the journey and the before and the after of it, as well?

Brendan: Exactly.

We are still developing what product that looks like but that is my goal.

To give an inside perspective for people and bring them along for the ride and see the ways this changes all of us before, during and after.

Rafael: Tell us about the other seven participants.

The seven other artists chosen for this trip.

What is their art and where did they hail from?

Brendan: They hail from all corners of the world.

Representation from Japan, India, the Czech Republic and Nigeria.

There is a London-based photographer that does humanistic photography.

Another photographer, as well as a choreographer and multidisciplinary artist.

All the way up to an American D.J.

It is really interesting because we come from all over the world, all different age ranges.

The older candidates are closer to their 40s and 50s.

I am really excited to see the way that everyone brings their perspectives to the mission.

Rafael: Have you had an opportunity to get together in person already, or not yet?

Brendan: I have met most of the other crewmembers, both during the selection process and experiences together.

I think this next phase is about all of us going to different events and eventually training, which there is no timeline for.

It will be so interesting to have us all in the same place, going through this journey together.

Rafael: I want to talk about the training and a second.

First of all, you are all civilians.

The press releases refers to you guys as the all civilian crew.

That being said, who is flying the ship?

Brendan: [Laughter] That is a great question, too.

I do not think we have exact information on that just yet because Starship is still in the process of being developed by SpaceX.

I fully trust in SpaceX process.

I have my full trust in the process and look forward to updating you down the line.

Rafael: Being a navigator and a pilot, we should not worry about that.

You will not be given the responsibility of flying there and back.

Brendan: When I can tell you is we are not chosen because of our aviation skills.

We leave a lot of that in the hands of SpaceX.

I could not imagine a more trustworthy organization to work with.

Rafael: Have you had a chance to visit the spacecraft yet?

Have you seen how comfy the accommodations will be -- or how uncomfy?

Brendan: They are still developing it, so not yet.

It is the largest rocket in history and they are about to do their first orbital test flight.

It is called Starship and Starship is being developed.

Also, to work with NASA's Artemis programs.

It will be the spacecraft that does NASA's next moon landing.

It is an exciting part of this new space legacy.

They will do an orbital flight at SpaceX.

They are waiting until they launch Artemis without a crew, orbit the earth and then land.

Once that goes through successfully, that will be a huge step toward the rest of all of this.

We are really excited.

Rafael: I know that William Shatner went to space with Jeff Bezos, but compared to the mission you will be undertaking, that was like a walk around the block.

Brendan: [Laughter] Rafael: I am sorry to bring this up but I have to say it is the first thing I thought of, which is the Challenger space shuttle tragedy.

I saw it live on TV what it happened and I thought about that.

The civilian with the crew.

Did you think about that?

Are you afraid?

Is your family afraid for you?

Brendan: I took this decision very seriously, especially during the training and the months leading up to it.

Not the training but the selection process.

I had to really think deeply about this and past the excitement and the opportunity it brings.

I remember being at Cape Canaveral at the space center, just touring, walking around and getting all of the information I could from museums.

I walked through the hall of the Challenger explosion, the mementos and memorabilia, piece of clothing and things that meant a lot to the folks involved in that and I felt that.

That is heavy.

I think that legacy has been so important and they gave so much for us to help tell the stories because we all believed in this greater thing of spaceflight.

I really believe in that, too.

It was not an easy decision to make but I made that with my family and my partner.

There was a lot of deep thinking, existential thinking.

It feels like the most meaningful thing I could do with my life and I really hope to take all that energy, fear and nervousness and put it into the trust of SpaceX and the hard work to create the best project I can tell the best story I can.

There is fear and there is nerves but at this point, I have taken a leap and signed on.

We will do this and it will be a safe and amazing journey.

Rafael: That is the concern, that is inevitable that it will come up.

That something could go wrong.

But as we have been saying, it is such an exciting trip with so many possibilities.

What is the most exciting aspect?

The one thing?

Brendan: You know, it is just seeing our reactions once we are up there.

That is the part that is the most unknown.

There is the much that we cannot predict.

There is so much we will go through, personally.

A lot of the most fulfilling moment so far are moments I could not have expected.

As a filmmaker, but I really love his projects I am chasing some idea or moment and I do not know exactly how it will unfold but I know something will happen where we see someone get so impacted by the experience.

I just look forward to that part of the trip that we cannot predict how we will feel or predict when it hits us.

It is not always living in those unknowns.

You just have to have the faith it will be a powerful experience.

Rafael: we will have to end it there.

Good luck to you.


I hope to talk to you when you get back and it will be sometime this year.

Thank you for joining us.

Brendan: My pleasure.

Thank you.

♪ Jack: Thank you for tuning into 'MetroFocus.'

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