Entrepreneur, educator, and community leader Alice Margie Turner is Founder and CEO URISE Ventures, Inc., a Hartford-based non-profit.

In 2015, Alice founded Urban Tekk, a community incubator for aspiring urban creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators Currently, located at HEDCO’s Business Resource Center, the technology-focused social enterprise takes an innovative approach to education and economic development by engaging and employing students and providing them with technical, career, and business ownership opportunities.

Alice is a finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council 2019 Women of Innovation awards in the Inspiring STEM Equitability category. She took time to speak with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her involvement with Hartford youth and some of her accomplishments.

NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did URISE come to be?

ALICE TURNER: I do a lot of work with youth in the community as a teacher and mentor. I was always fascinated by the number of students who said they want to start their own business after high school. My own son told me the same thing. He wanted to be a successful businessman. But most youth have no idea what to do to make that happen. So, I thought: There’s an opportunity here.

I realized young people could be better engaged and educated if they were doing meaningful work. I wanted to create experiential ways for them to learn—in a way that was fun and engaging. A simulated business concept seemed to work for them, which is what URISE was intended to be. URISE is an acronym for the Urban Reach Institute for Students and Enterprises. I launched as a for-profit company in 2003.

NAN: How has URISE evolved?

ALICE: The biggest change happened 10 years after I launched. I rebranded URISE and refocused it from being a for-profit to a non-profit, so we are a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The mission has remained the same: To engage and educate young people about business and entrepreneurship with a focus on technology-related businesses.

The idea solidified in 2010, when I participated in Encore!Hartford. The leadership development program is a partnership between Leadership Greater Hartford and the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy Nonprofit Leadership Program. It helps corporate professionals over the age of 50 transition into nonprofit careers. I had an epiphany when I realized the non-profit structure might be better suited for the work I’m trying to do with youth and workforce development.

Through Encore, I joined the reSET Education Committee and became a founding member when Kate Emory was trying to build the organization in 2010. What’s interesting is, five years later, I became a client and  completed the reSET Impact Accelerator.

NAN: In addition to reSET and Leadership Greater Hartford, you’ve been deeply immersed in the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Greater Hartford.

ALICE: Yes. The accelerator helped me make a lot of connections with mentors including Kevin Bouley, Greg Lewis, Dave Menard, and Ripi Singh, to name a few.

In 2014, URISE participated in a Startup Weekend sponsored by the MetroHartford Alliance. It was specifically focused on educational technology. A team of my students came together and pitched an idea and we were one of the three winners. We won People’s Choice. That really started the journey.

When we first started teaching entrepreneurship, it was through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Then, in 2015, we started offering Junior Achievement curriculum that was still all about developing young entrepreneurs. It was a good relationship because they’re headquartered in Hartford. Our students also participated in Junior Achievement’s regional FedEx Junior Business Challenge in 2017.

In 2016, my students and I pitched our revised concept for a mobile app at the CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards and we won one of the $10,000 product development awards. We were really jazzed about that. We used those funds to build a functional prototype of an educational technology concept, which we’re still working on.

Urban Tekk students also participated in the Hartford CitiCare Hackathon in 2018. We were voted Fan Favorite and won $1,00 for our idea for CHaTT, a web portal that allows Hartford’s community service providers to communicate and coordinate immediate responses to shootings to alleviate childhood trauma.

Most of the high school students I work with are from urban areas. I’m able to prepare them to understand business, think critically, communicate effectively, and then take them to a competition where they can showcase what they’ve learned. It is a tremendous source of passion and pride for me—and for the students who become exposed to career opportunities, networks, and resources they just never knew existed.

NAN: How are they finding out about URISE and Urban Tekk?

ALICE: I receive referrals from Jr. Apprentice, a teen apprenticeship program run by the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education that pairs high school students who are interested in specific careers with professional mentors. I’ve been mentoring youth interested in business, entrepreneurship, or technology for the past six years. I love mentoring and working with young people. I have six interns this semester! The students get paid minimum-wage to work with a professional mentor.

I also work with other community partners, including the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford’s South End and Blue Hills Civic Association in the North End. Students are referred to us because they have expressed an interest in business, entrepreneurship, or technology.

NAN: What do you need the most to move URISE forward?

ALICE: There’s no question about it. I could serve more youth if we had more space and more funding. I volunteer as a mentor and an advisor. Sponsors and additional funding will enable us to continue providing the quality programming resources I would really like to offer these students and scale our operations. That’s one of the primary reasons we changed our legal structure to a non-profit, so we can provide entrepreneurship training and education to students who can’t pay for themselves but could benefit from a program like ours.

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Urban Tekk won $1,000 at the Hartford CitiCare Hackathon.
Urban Tekk Founder Alice Turner (left) poses with her team and Hartford School Superintendent Torres at the Hartford CitiCare Hackathon.