Walk into Upward Hartford, and you’re immediately drawn to a wall covered in brightly colored sticky notes, or the “Idea Wall” as Shana Schlossberg, founder of Upward Hartford, calls it.
“A few months ago, I thought to myself, why are we not seeing more entrepreneurs in Hartford? Why are we not seeing more startups and how do we make that happen?” Shana says. She found herself coming across a vast amount of creative and capable people but not nearly enough startups.
She realized that people feared their ideas would not be good enough, or that they couldn’t possibly make them happen. So, she decided that she was going to stop that, and planned to come up with a way for people to start verbalizing and sharing their ideas. But, instead of having people write down their thoughts in a notebook, she wanted them to put them on display for everyone to see. Now, when people walk by this wall and read hundreds of ideas, they may see one that they want to collaborate on and bring to life, or perhaps invest in.
Beyond this idea wall you will find a 34,000 square foot innovation hub, with 15,000 square feet of open space; “it’s comfortable, it’s fun, it has a good vibe, and you get to work,” Shana says.
Everyone is welcome at Upward Hartford. “It’s all around building a community. Here, there’s almost something to do every night.” From live art shows that replicate a night at the Met, to open mic nights where people share poetry, song, and comedy… Upward Hartford’s event calendar is always filled and caters to a wide variety of interests and passions.
“We have an incredibly diverse community here,” Shana explains. “I’m involved in tech communities around the world, and I’ve seen more women in our hackathons than I’ve seen in Silicon Valley. The startup world is about men, but here you see women who are interested and want to be a part of it.”
Shana has people knocking on her door saying ‘I want to teach robotics to kids’ or ‘I want to teach music to kids’ or ‘I want to teach a workshop about blockchain.’ “We said ‘this is your new home, we have space… let’s work together.’ We want to be that physical space where everyone can gather, and we want to be enablers and facilitators to that,” says Shana.
Shana has seen many success stories come out of Upward Hartford. Including, an incredible story of an international company who made the first FDA approved watch that measures oxygen in the blood. They are now working very closely with one of the major health insurers in the city and their whole team is relocating to an office in Hartford. “They told me that because of Hartford, and because of this relationship with the health insurer, they are now valued 20x their original value,” Shana says.
“Everything that we’re about is to be that nucleus where change can begin. When I first came here, I saw a city that was grand, a city that was a great American story. The capital of insurance in the world… it was a wealthy city, a city that had led to innovation. But it wasn’t anymore, and I didn’t really understand why… I look around and this city has great bones,” says Shana. She knew that Hartford could be an amazing startup city and ecosystem. “And that’s the mission of Upward Hartford – we’re going to change (specifically) downtown Hartford into a different type of city. That’s our brand, we’re called Upward Hartford… We want to build an amazing Hartford… we want to help Hartford reach its potential,” she says.
Shana has lived in several big cities around the world and one of the things that surprised her at the beginning about Hartford, and what she grew to love, was how welcoming everyone here was. “Everyone goes out of their way to open their doors and introduce you. I wasn’t used to that… in a big city, you’re on your own.” She goes on to share that in Hartford’s small community, everyone knows each other and there’s a good chance that someone can get you to five people that you need to get to, and they will have no problem making those introductions. “Because I met those people very early on, I fell in love with this community.”