In an effort to expand opportunities in Wisconsin’s startup scene for women and minorities, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) launched UpStart in 2013. Now in its third year, UpStart has helped a number of entrepreneurs build successful business plans and learn how to navigate the startup environment.

UpStart is free, and people of all educational backgrounds – ranging from GED to Ph.D. – are welcome to apply. The program seeks to address the fact that, despite educational and professional progress, women and minorities are statistically less likely to achieve entrepreneurial success. UpStart hopes to not only arm entrepreneurs with the necessary tools to run a successful business, but also build community among participants and encourage them to realize their entrepreneurial goals with the support of a network of like-minded people.

Innovators with all kinds of business ideas – from agriculture to mobile apps – can benefit from participating in UpStart, which covers a wide spectrum of topics. The program will accept those who have an entrepreneurial idea as well as those who have already started their own business. During each session, instructors give presentations and bring in speakers who address marketing, accounting, finance, small business loan programs and legal counsel. At the end of the program, participants pitch their ideas to the rest of their cohort.

UpStart graduates report that they have been able to directly apply what they learned to their entrepreneurial efforts, and that participating in the program has helped them know what questions to ask in order to be heard and respected in the business world.

“The signs of success for me is that we see more women and minorities engaged in the whole startup environment in Madison,” Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF, said in an UpStart informational video. “It’s just growing this ecosystem to make this a vibrant community for entrepreneurial endeavors and to start companies, and I think it’ll be good for all of us.”

UpStart offers fall and winter sessions annually, with each program lasting two to three months. Classes are located on the UW-Madison campus and meet once a week in the evening.

UpStart is currently accepting applications for its fall 2016 cohort. To learn more and apply, click here.