COVINGTON -- Multiple languages are being spoken all at once.
An Irish flag drapes over the side of a workstation as developers confer over project details.
The office environment has no walls or cubicles, even though up to 10 distinct businesses are represented in the room at any given time.
Welcome to UpTech.
UpTech Inc. is a Covington-based tech accelerator for data-driven startups. Like most accelerators, UpTech combines a mentorship component with financial support for each class of startups. It also incorporates an educational feature, which is meant to help businesses succeed once they get past the startup phase.
Accelerators have become increasingly important to startup businesses, says JB Woodruff, managing director at UpTech. They originated a little over 10 years ago, with Y Combinator, Woodruff said, and usually consist of four components:
1. A dedicated program that is time-bound, usually between three and six months.
2. An educational curriculum for participants.
3. A set of mentors for the startup businesses.
4. Funding so the entrepreneurs can work on their startups full time.
Accordingly, UpTech provides funding, work space, and mentoring for tech-based startups. The accelerator is currently hosting its fifth class of startups, with nine companies participating in a six-month program.
"We call it a 5 + 1-month program," said Woodruff. "We support the startups for five months, they have their Demo Day (in which their products are demonstrated before an audience), and we support them for one month after."
"We found there was a cliff effect that can happen, that after a big culminating point, that can have a big letdown -- what is life after the program?" he said. "We go over how to work with investors and making sure they know the next steps.
"We give up to $50,000 to start the businesses," he continued, "but they usually say after the fact the most valuable piece was the people they met and the education they received"
Something must be working for UpTech. It was recently awarded a Silver Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council. And last week, the city of Covington renamed the alley running behind UpTech as Innovation Alley. The alley runs behind Mother of God church and also touches on Bad Girl Ventures, another entrepreneurial launching pad, culminating at Russell Street.
"We set out with the audacious goal of creating the country's best angel tax credit program and building a community-funded and -supported accelerator program because we knew no region can have a significant high-tech startup sector without investment capital and companies to invest in," said Casey Barach, senior vice president of high-growth entrepreneurship at Tri-ED and director of the Northern Kentucky office of the Kentucky Innovation Network (KIN). "These two programs have added over $10 million in equity investment and 39 companies in the Northern Kentucky region."
UpTech, which hosts community events both public and private, including a regular grill-out, is all about community involvement, Woodruff said, and he thinks Covington is a selling point for UpTech.
"This is community revitalization -- if you look around, the amount of investment is phenomenal. I believe Covington is Cincinnati's Brooklyn, and we have the bridge to match it," he said. "People find it cheaper than Cincinnati now, but there's something artsy about it. I love working down here -- and the people who spend time to make it a better place."
This year's class includes participants from Latvia, Chile, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Germany.
"We're excited to bring five international teams into our cohort, but both the international and local teams keep getting better," Woodruff said. "If we didn't keep getting better people every year, I'd think something was wrong."
In off-months, when the startups are not going through the program, UpTech offers co-working space. It also has multiple meeting rooms, including a large one in a former garage boasting a large skylight that provides an impressive view of the Mother of God steeples.