5 Questions with Noa Simons, CEO of Upstate Capital

Jan 18, 2022

Noa Simons is an entrepreneur, investor, advisor, and ecosystem builder. She is the President and CEO of the Upstate Capital Association of New York, leading and managing the premier business networking organization for private capital investors and transaction professionals in Upstate New York. SInce 2018, Noa has been driving the reimagining and growth of the NYBPC, New York’s intercollegiate business plan competition for emerging entrepreneurs. The program’s focus is on education, equity, inclusion, and launching new ventures.

After graduating from Brandeis University, Noa worked through a private family office as a venture capital investor and executive leader for both non-profit and for-profit startups through 2015. She has led turnaround management projects, as well as teams doing fundamental research, and web platform development. She sourced investment opportunities, conducted due diligence, structured agreements with founders, and managed portfolio investments. In 2015, she co-founded the Hudson Valley Startup Fund and led day-to-day management through 2019. She serves on boards, investment, and advisory committees throughout New York, and independently, as a mentor, advisor, and consultant to select startups and small businesses.

01. Give us the elevator pitch for the New York Business Plan Competition.

The NYBPC, powered by Upstate Capital, is the privately-funded intercollegiate business plan competition in New York, serving more than 500 students from more than 50 colleges and universities across the state. The program accomplishes three goals: delivering experiential education and learning opportunities to students through developing and presenting business plans, creating unprecedented opportunities to start relationships with people serving as mentors and judges from the business community, launching new ventures through mentorship, and non-dilutive cash prizes.

02. How does the NYBPC create a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Each year, more than 500 students compete across all ten regions of New York State, representing more than fifty colleges and universities. The program is built on principles of inclusion to ensure that everyone who wants access to entrepreneurship can participate. We actively recruit both participants and mentors and judges that reflect the diversity of the broader population.

The result is that every year, twenty-five to fifty percent of students self-identify as women and minorities, from community colleges, state schools, and private colleges and universities. From proposing early-stage concepts to running revenue-generating businesses, the competitors run the full spectrum of early-stage ventures. Participation in the competition provides access to experienced business mentors for students from all backgrounds and locations. With regional competitions across the state before the statewide finals, entrepreneurs from urban and rural centers of innovation participate on a more level playing field through the competition, where they can learn experientially and access meaningful connections, and capital when they win.

03. How will support from the Techstars Foundation and the Techstars network further the mission of your organization?

The NYBPC is focused on continuing to grow the events in scale, caliber, and capital to expand the impact of the platform as a cornerstone of entrepreneurship in New York State. Support from Techstars will enable us to increase access to mentorship, educational opportunities, and prize money for competitors before and after the program. We will also explore duplicating the model to engage emerging entrepreneurs more broadly, continuing to reduce the barriers to entrepreneurship. There is no other state-wide competition that is as inclusive or wide-reaching as ours, and the impact of access to more mentorship, education, and capital will empower more individuals to pursue ownership of their economic futures, and transform lives through entrepreneurship.

Access to the Techstars network will be a game-changer for the NYBPC and all participants. The access to a much bigger and broader network of mentors, accelerators, and founders will give our participants more value. The alignment of our brands will provide much broader visibility for the NYBPC nationally and globally. The financial support will help us continue to build a stronger, more inclusive, and more impactful platform for emerging entrepreneurs.

04. How did you come to do this work and why is it important to you personally?

My entrepreneurial mindset was well-established at a young age, having grown up with a father who owned small businesses in Upstate NY. Since 2016, I have been leading the Upstate Capital Association, which has given me broad and deep insight into the innovation ecosystem all across New York state. I had been hired by the board to lead the premier business networking organization for investors in Upstate NY, but I realized that I was an “ecosystem builder” while attending the Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP conference in 2017. Concurrent with that realization, the NYBPC, a program where I had judged and mentored for several years, was being canceled, and when I learned of this, I believed that this important program needed to continue, and asked to take over its leadership. I had always loved the days I spent judging student entrepreneurs’ ideas as they pitched them. The energy and creativity are infectious, and it feels good to be part of helping emerging entrepreneurs find their way forward. It’s rewarding to see students using entrepreneurial skills and making meaningful connections that will impact their trajectories in their careers and lives. There is no other program like it, and it’s such an honor to be able to lead the team and volunteers that make it happen every year which means there’s a dire need to support existing talent and to cultivate incoming talent.

05. Tell us the story of an entrepreneur you are proud to have supported.

I’m particularly proud of working with Scrap-It team through the NYBPC. Orville’s family owned a junkyard when he was a child, and during his college career, he decided to start a tech-enabled recycling business providing on-demand help removing unwanted items from people’s homes. He leveraged a first-place win in the Environmental track at the NYBPC to launch his app and start serving customers, and he is still in business today! NYBPC is a participant in the Accelerate Equity program of the Techstars Foundation in 2022.

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