The 2019 UpStart Cohort has concluded. Look forward to seeing the 2020 Cohort!

UpStart is the country’s first student run art and design driven accelerator program founded in 2018. UpStart intends to empower the diverse art and design community of RISD with the tools to transform their talents into sustainable businesses through funding and leveraging RISD’s extensive alumni network.


The Need:

RISD is home to many creative people who would are constantly looking for ways to freely express their talents, but they lack the resources and knowledge to push themselves further. At E’Ship, we wanted to offer an opportunity to embrace their talents through entrepreneurship. Prior to UpStart, E’Ship focused purely on the educational side of entrepreneurship, inviting various guests to come speak about their experience and responding to the concerns of students. With UpStart, we want to meet the executional side of entrepreneurship by getting passionate students in touch with the resources and knowledge necessary through mentorship and funding in a cohesive accelerator program that runs side-by-side with the E’Ship’s educational programming.



Many people are often unaware of the entrepreneurial spirit of RISD. Throughout the years, a majority of RISD alumnus have been involved in entrepreneurship whether it be freelancing, running a small design studio, creating a product line, or developing a scalable tech company. With such a rich alumni network full of seasoned entrepreneurs, we found that it would be a great opportunity to reengage these alumnus with RISD through mentorship and guidance.



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2019 Cohort

The 2019 UpStart Cohort has concluded. Watch the recap of our first successful Demo Day!



Gina Zhang (ID 2019)

Purpose is a cleaning products company focused on keeping the home clean with probiotics, which bring back the good bacteria and lessens the frequency we have to clean. These days, cleaning products have the tendency to kill off almost all the bacteria, which in the long run becomes extremely harmful to our health. DIY solutions tend to be inefficient and inconvenient, making the process of cleaning your home much more difficult than it needs to be. Lively Living strives to not only help people live healthier lives, but make the experience of cleaning an enjoyable one.


Matthew Bejtlich (MFA GD 2021); Maria Gehring (Brown CS 2019)

Archetype’s goal is to create a data-driven tool that helps designers efficiently (and economically) incorporate upcycled materials into their design process. This is done by aggregating data on used textiles and sustainable raw materials to form micro data narratives. The data narratives, composed of both material qualities and ethnographic details, will reveal the important physical, personal, and historic nature of these objects, allowing them to be preserved temporally. Through humanized innovation and meaningful insight, the tool will enable artists to better design for the needs of the future consumer, while simultaneously encouraging a shift towards a more environmentally-conscious, circular economy.



Westen Johnson (ID 2019) ; Julie Joo (ID 2019)

Soilless aims to create a low-cost hydroponic system to benefit low-income communities. Hydroponic systems are incredible structures that grow plants in water. Compared to traditional farming, hydroponic farming uses 95% less water, grows food twice as fast, and can grow anywhere in the world. All these benefits come with a downside though, hydroponic systems can be extremely expensive to establish. The users who could benefit the most from quickly grown fresh greens are low-income families and Soilless wants to provide them the means to sustainably grow their own fresh food.

Gender Respect by Design

Bowen Zhou (ID 2021); Carol Demick (ILLUST 2021) ; Caffery Feilding (ID 2021); Bobby J. Smith III (MFA GD 2020)

Gender Respect by Design is a line of play products(toy, app, board game, etc.) that introduces and educates on the idea of respect for all gender, with a focus on consent education and lifting gender bias. Different toys are designed to target different age groups from the kindergarten to grade 12 range. Consent and gender respect should not be taught only in one class at school. Instead, it should be slowly incorporated into a child's mind.

Currently, the brand is focused on the age group of 5 to 8 with two main ideas. "My Body My Way" is a card game that promotes kids to think about what their body boundaries are and learn to respect others' boundaries. "Become" is a dress-up app game that expand the kids’ imagination of what gender means and what one could be regardless of their identity.”


2019 Timeline

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The UpStart Network is a combination of RISD alumnus, industry professionals, and passionate entrepreneurs. They play a key role in providing mentorship and support for RISD artists and designers who want to start their own business. Interested in getting involved or learning more? Contact us or fill out this quick form!


Integrated Mentors

Integrated mentors are active participants in UpStart who are matched with cohort members to provide guidance throughout the whole process.

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Chris Tolles

CEO and Co-founder of Sundots


Lindsay Degen

Founder of DEGENus & Designer for Converse


Nick Scappaticci

Founder of Tellart


Hannah Chung

Co-founder of Sproutel


Harry Segal

Co-founder of Segal Savad

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Kristine Merz

President of Orange Square

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Soaib Grewal

Venture Partner T-Labs


Brandon Kim

Co-Founder of Brevite


Expertise Mentors

Expertise mentors are industry specialists who provide specific guidance to cohort members at the right time.

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Willem Van Lanker

Founder of Oyster & Incubator @ Thrive Capital


Ryan Murphy

Consultant @ SYPartners

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Justin Sirotin

Founder of OCTO

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Bill Hilgendorf


Lydia Shin

Co-founder of NEMIC


Greg Kanaan

The Legal Artist

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Matthew Bird

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Danny Warshay

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Jerome Arul

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Brennan McGrath

Founding Partner of Verdes

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Scott Stowell

Founder of Open

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James Wynn


Lisa Moses

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Troy DeRego

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Kathy Kuo


 2020 Vision?

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