UpTech's new interim director raises the bar


UpTech announced the end of an era last month, when longtime Program Director Amanda Greenwell stepped down from her multi-functional role at the Covington-based accelerator.
 
Greenwell saw 22 companies pass through the program since its founding in 2013, with nearly $1.5 million in startup investment. The program produced several companies that have already seen significant success, including Tixers, Citilogics and Hello Parent.
 
Replacing Greenwell is JB Woodruff, commercialization director at ezone and UpTech's first Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Before stepping in as interim director, Woodruff met with each of the UpTech startups for one hour per week to act as a mentor and guide through the business development process. As a resource for everything from graphic design, branding and marketing to web development and business strategy, he was chief motivator for these growing companies.
 
His new title, however, allows the Cincinnati native to do much more than motivate.
 
"We're looking for a bigger push to solidify the informatics element (of UpTech) and create a niche for ourselves," Woodruff says.
 
To do so, he hopes to re-establish a standing relationship with NKU's College of Applied Informatics and plans to provide mentors for the new class of startups by creating partnerships with area corporations. He'd also like to expand the accelerator's reach beyond Northern Kentucky.
 
"We want to have roots in Kentucky, but we also recognize that you have to become a national player to be a successful accelerator," Woodruff says.
 
To meet that goal, UpTech is currently recruiting its fourth class from across the country and the world. The accelerator received 77 applications from all over the U.S. as well as Chile, Thailand, Spain and Italy. They've narrowed down the pool to 16 or 17 startups with the goal of keeping 10 or fewer.
 
"We're looking for investable companies, ones that have the right team in place," Woodruff says. "We're also striving for a full house to really get the vibe going."
 
Woodruff hopes to use his new position to address two primary shortcomings he saw in past UpTech classes: time commitment and skill sets.
 
"In order to make a startup work, a 100 percent time commitment has to be made," he says. "In the past, a lot of our founders were working other jobs and the commitment was not really there. We want folks basically living at UpTech so that they can do everything in their power to drive success in their business."
 
The key to finding that drive is necessity, Woodruff says. When choosing UpTech's fourth class over the next month, the selection team will look for a full-time commitment from at least one team member.
 
Woodruff is also concerned with a lack of technical skills. In the past, UpTech didn't require that a startup have a team member with tech skills, instead depending on help from NKU's Applied Informatics students. Woodruff is now pushing to make tech skills a hard requirement for admission into the UpTech program.
 
"We want to help build the students' skills, not depend on them," he says.
 
Once selected, this year's class of startups will have access to multiple mentorship opportunities. Investors like Brad Zapp of Connetic Ventures already have weekly appointments with UpTech startups. UpTech alumni who still use the Pike Street workspace will also be available to offer their unfiltered advice.
 
Update: The members of UpTech's fourth class were announced on Aug. 18, with their six-month program scheduled to begin in early September. 
 
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