Brad Zapp was packing for vacation on a Friday afternoon in late 2011, when Casey Barach and Adam Caswell showed up to tell him about a Big Idea.
The two were working on a program that would bring 50 startups into Northern Kentucky over five years and leverage Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics to create a technology hub in the region.
They had already lined up financial and corporate support for the business accelerator program that would become known as UpTech. What they didn’t have was a manager to oversee UpTech’s first $1 million Equity Fund. They wanted Zapp.
The role is critical: In addition to being the public face for UpTech’s fund within the business community, the manager oversees the flow of capital into the startups, which each get $100,000, six months of support and office space.
The job requires financial expertise, diplomacy and the willingness to work a lot of hours for free.
“Because I wanted to, I put in a significant amount of time. I wanted to be a good steward of the funds, and I wanted to be around these companies,” said Zapp, who called Barach and Caswell later that day to accept the role.
“And I wanted to be part of all the fun stuff, too. The coolest stuff is seeing the rocket pitches, what are these companies doing, what’s their progress. Because of that, I was around quite a bit.”