Startup Week 2019: Upstart programs focus on growing entrepreneurial community

  • Julia Casey, Lead Instructor for the Upstart Alpha startup accelerator, works with Margo Fliss to map the Spring semester syllabus. (Photo/Courtesy/Gretchen Fauske)

Accelerators, which provide seed investment, connections and mentorship to startup companies and entrepreneurs, have been popping up across the country in recent years. Alaska is no exception. 

The University of Alaska Center for Economic Development is unveiling Upstart Alpha, a university-based entrepreneurship engine launching in January 2020.

“A lot of the folks we expect to apply for our accelerator are really in the process of taking their first steps towards a startup, towards launching their first business,” Nolan Klouda, director of the Center for Economic Development said in a presentation at 1 Million Cups. “So we’ve tailored our program to that in order to bring them up rapidly, to a higher level of capacity — where they’re able to participate in our ecosystem and ideally, take those steps towards being funded or towards becoming self-sufficient and revenue positive.”

Applicants do not have to be students of the University of Alaska to apply for the accelerator, though the program is student-focused.

“We want startups to congeal and grow in their strength coming out of our accelerator and to enter our ecosystem, and we want them to become successful,” Klouda said. “But I think even more important than that is that we want to build entrepreneurs, whether or not the startup that they work on here is what they go with ultimately — is maybe not the most important issue — so much as that we helped entrepreneurs get their bearings and learn the tricks, learn how to do customer discovery, fail along the way, learn that failure is okay, and what lessons to take away from it and how to keep going.”

Gretchen Fauske, associate director at the Center for Economic Development, says that across the country, rates of entrepreneurship among 20-somethings are declining, and Alaska is no exception.

“Fortunately, because of our position at UAA and focus on early state entrepreneurial development, CED is well-positioned to reach young Alaskans with an interest in entrepreneurship,” Fauske said. “Our two new Upstart programs focus on connecting students or early-stage entrepreneurs to startup opportunities.”

Fauske says with a focus on the lean launch method of build-test-learn and customer discovery, the program offers the opportunity to take an idea and transform it into a business.

“We are really excited about these programs and bridging students and startups!” Fauske said.

This fall, the Center for Economic Development got the ball rolling and launched Upstart Internships, which offers UAA students the opportunity to intern at CED, where they will be connected with local founders to experience what it means to work at a startup.

Participating startups this fall include Alpine Fit, an apparel company; The Launch Company, which specializes in all rocket-launching needs; Gennaker Solutions, which specializes in developing autonomous drones; LegalVerse, a software as a service company providing innovative document management tools for lawyers; The Boardroom, a co-working space in downtown Anchorage; and Launch Alaska.

Both Upstart Alpha and Upstart Internships will be running in the spring of 2020.

To learn more about the Center for Economic Development’s programs, follow them on Facebook or visit their website.

Samantha Davenport is the Startups Storyteller for the Center for Economic Development. Before joining CED, she was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years. During her time at UAA, she completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. She graduated from UAA in December of 2018 with bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science. Sam is a member of the 1 Million Cups organizing committee. In addition to her work at CED, Samantha is an Anchorage-based freelance writer and managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyperlocal magazine about the neighborhood of Spenard. She previously served on the Spenard Community Council's executive board as treasurer.

11/22/2019 - 1:44pm