Ryan Park is not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense, but implements the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit into everything he does - specifically in his current position as Director of Innovation at Upbring Innovation Labs. Upbring is a non-profit organization on a mission to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families, and communities. Upbring is based in Austin, TX and is a leading provider for child wellbeing and community services in the state of Texas.
A serial entrepreneur, Ryan joined Upbring two years ago inspired by an interest in starting his own non-profit. Not long after he started, the President and COO of Upbring - Michael Loo - called Ryan into his office to chat. Michael was inspired by Ryan’s passion for entrepreneurship and told him that few industries or populations could benefit more from innovation than the children served by Upbring. He asked Ryan to help launch and lead an Innovation Lab that would speed up the level of innovative ideas coming out of the company and bring newer technologies like VR, AR, and blockchain into the nonprofit world. And so began Ryan’s current position as Director of Innovation.
What is the extent of your involvement with the children you’re helping?
Ryan designed Upbring Innovation Labs so that ideas are filtered through a human centered design approach - developing products and services with end users’ feedback from the beginning. While Upbring’s Innovation Lab doesn’t work directly with children, due to the high number of regulations surrounding child welfare, they do work in close relation with families, community members, staff at Upbring, and other organizations that directly serve the children, i.e. social workers.
Upbring’s Innovation Lab has only been in existence for about a year. Ryan describes its existence alone as a huge success. The entrepreneurial spirit contributes to a new energy that incorporates creativity and enhanced collaboration as corporate culture tenets, instead of compliments to culture. With the implementation of the Innovation Lab and other forward-thinking strategies, Upbring continues to see a dramatic culture shift, bringing a whole new dynamic to the workplace. Ryan attributes a lot of the innovation efforts to Upbring’s President and COO - Michael Loo, “His vision for the organization and its industry is clear, and his support has been unwavering.” Ryan describes intrapreneurship - an entirely different challenge from entrepreneurship - as trying to mold molded clay. “On top of creating new lines of business, we are part of reshaping a culture that has already been established. It’s an operational and a cultural challenge. The UIL is tasked with weaving in innovation to improve business without breaking laws, which is the “real world challenge” mixed in with the cultural. Although it has been a positive challenge. We have already had tangible success. Our first project out the door, upbring.org/shop, was completed within 3 months and has contributed to the wellbeing of over 125 children.”
“My field is essentially social impact entrepreneurship. When you join the non-profit world, your goal is to make a difference, but there are bad days in any line of work. What gets you over that hurdle is the core of your personal mission. Upbring’s mission is very close to my heart. I truly believe that kids deserve to be put on the right path from a young age. I want to be involved in a bigger way, and what better way than investing in our children.”
What personality characteristics do you see in yourself that you believe help you as an entrepreneur?
“Flexibility. The ability to work with a wide range of people in both predictable and unpredictable scenarios is important. Along the way, you have to be a good communicator - soft skills are really valuable.”
One piece of advice
“Travel. The most beneficial thing you can do for yourself as an individual is to gain a wider perspective - nothing forces you to do that more than travel. Not one single person knows everything so get out of your comfort zone, and learn more.”