UP Start Collaborative Helps Food Truck Entrepreneur Realize Dream

Small, independently owned businesses, offering a variety of goods and services, have been the backbone of Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood for generations. Curtis Washington’s story is a wonderful example of what can happen when Syracuse residents with a taste for entrepreneurship can make their dreams a reality with the help of resource and mentoring connections.

Washington is a daytime chef at Carnegie Cafe and a volunteer chef for Exodus 3 Ministries Women’s Shelter. His love of cooking ignited a desire to start his own business, but he wasn’t quite sure where to start. When his fiancé learned about the UP Start Entrepreneurship program, she insisted that Jackson seize the opportunity to do what he has always wanted to do with his cooking talent – launch his own food truck aptly named “That’s What’s Up.”

Mixing up soul food dishes with exotic spices and embellishments, Washington’s food truck allows him to serve groups of people excited about food, culture and new ideas.

“My whole thing is to have fun with food,” he said. “I love the idea of being able to teach people about new flavors, new places and new things.”

The UP Start Syracuse Entrepreneurship program was launched after Northside Up won the Central New York Community Foundation’s $85,000 CNY85 Collaborative Impact prize in 2012 – the Foundation’s 85th Anniversary year. UP Start is a collaborative entrepreneurial training and incubation program. The program targets the next generation of urban entrepreneurs and connects them with essential training, resources, mentors and incubation from a myriad of partnerships. UP Start’s collaborative impact has drawn partners such as the Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union, NYS Small Business Development Center, ProLiteracy, The Tech Garden, St. Joseph’s Hospital, CenterState CEO, SUNY Educational Opportunity Center and many others.

“It’s not just a class. We strive to be a resource for people who have the talent but may need the direction or the know-how to connect with resources to move forward in their business ideas,” said Northside UP program manager Stasya Erickson.

Entrepreneurs in the incubation stage of UP Start have advanced through the initial classroom seminars and developed a comprehensive business portfolio. A diverse spectrum of entrepreneurs from varying ethnicities, regions of Syracuse, age and even refugee backgrounds have been attracted to the Syracuse UP Start program.

“The Community Foundation is thrilled to see supports for an entrepreneurial ecosystem being built out in the City of Syracuse—especially among those that might have been excluded in the past,” said John Eberle, Community Foundation Vice President, Grants and Community Initiatives.
UP Start’s diverse entrepreneurs also have access to a resource network of mentors and technical assistance in the areas of business planning, financial planning, marketing, and event planning to test their products and services. Now one year into the program, Washington’s meets with his mentor, Daniel Cowen, at least weekly. With his food truck paid off, he is able to run ideas by Dan about next steps, including healthy menu items, accounting practices and marketing to cater for groups and private businesses.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without UP Start,” Washingtons said.

The Central New York Community Foundation’s investment in entrepreneurs through programs like UP Start empowers the next generation of urban entrepreneurs to start businesses and improve the Syracuse community.

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