Alex Hirsch
Alex Hisrch is a faculty ambassador for OIPC in 2020/21.

 Alex Hirsch is the new faculty ambassador representing the Honors College and College of Liberal Arts at UAF.

Alex Hirsch is creating meaningful student opportunities in his position as director for the Honors College. He is engaging students in load-bearing experiential education. One example is a recent collaboration with OIPC’s Peter Webley in which Hirsch built a partnership with Eielson Air Force Base involving UAF Honors students solving problem sets associated with Arctic security. He is also developing an interdisciplinary innovation track within the Honors College to engage students in design thinking and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit and a culture of innovation.

 Hirsch’s research and teaching expertise focus is  in political theory and moral imagination.  He transformed the UAF Honors Program into the Honors College and inaugurated its Climate Scholars Program, presenting a unique undergraduate experience for highly engaged students interested in studying sustainability in the context of climate resilience and rapid environmental change. 


Malvika Shriwas
Malvika Shriwas is a Student2Startup intern with Culture Story this summer. Photo courtesy of Malvika Shriwas.

Making social media a more positive experience is the goal for Nolan Earnest and his team of West Valley High School friends. They created the Oranj App - a social media platform that links people by their hobbies and activities.

Earnest was a freshly minted high school graduate when he joined the Students2Startups this summer.

“Oranj, right now, is an app for people who feel that social media is not the right place to meet new people, make new friends,”  Earnest said. 

The Oranj team had developed their app to a point where they needed someone to work on it full time. Through meeting the Center ICE startups and innovation manager, Nigel Sharp, the team found an internship that offered the opportunity to work on their app,  meet people, and interact with other interns and other startups in Alaska.He adds that the social media platform Facebook is a way to keep in touch with your family and co-workers and actual friends that you might see on weekends. “We’re trying to make it to where people who don’t have the opportunities in the workplace or school can meet new people the right way,”  Earnest said.

“I was like wow, we are going to get to know a lot more people and we’re going to be able to take advantage of that for the whole summer,”  Earnest said.

Students2Startups  was a valuable program for Earnest when he was making the website for the Oranj app because the other interns provide valuable and honest feedback.  He is also learning about the business side of things from Sharp, Peter Webley and guest speakers.

“The Oranj App was an experiment for the continually evolving Students2Startups program, where this year for the first time students have been permitted, even encouraged, to work on startup companies they have intrinsic ownership of. Nolan Earnest recognizing the potential opportunity for this has taken full advantage,”  Nigel Sharp said.

And, the art of pitching. “That was honestly a huge moment for me,”  Earnest said. “I’d love to learn more about pitching because it felt so natural, but there are a lot of simple things you can do and they can turn into major mistakes.”

Earnest also took many of the S2S program ideas back to his team, like the Business Model Canvas. Over Zoom, Earnest led the Oranj team through the canvas and they were able to decide on the best path forward for the startup rather than running in too many directions.

Oranj founders are Earnest (designer), Thomas Beuler (developer), Kate Baring (designer), and Koen Campbell (marketing). They decided together that Earnest should do the internship as a way to move the project forward.

Oranj is not a dating app. People who sign up are put into groups by interests making it more comfortable to initiate conversations. The team is trying to make the experience more than just about talking. “We’re trying to make it more about developing relationships than just having that little experience. We want it to be where people can connect and say, ‘I am really glad I met this person,’” says Earnest.

The Oranj app is live, though it is not to the point where the team wants it to be. Time is a factor. The team  members have all recently graduated from high school, and Bueller is attending Columbia University in the fall. Campbell is working a fulltime job, Barring is headed to college in Washington and Earnest is enrolled at UAF to major in filmmaking.

The Oranj team will continue  developing their app; They plan to keep it free of charge with minimal advertising. Earnest feels that online interactions will be the way we meet people in the future,  through an app like Oranj which focuses on human interactions rather than comparing yourself to others.

“We are building an environment for users to feel more fulfilled, less depressed,” he said.

Students2Startups is an Alaska Center ICE program supported through funding from the Office of Naval Research.  For more information on the program, please contact Nigel Sharp at

Seed Fund

Looking for a “nudge” to help accelerate your startup? Look no further, Center ICE Seed Fund has what you need!

This program is available to UA as well as non-UA startups! Check out to learn more or email Alaska Center ICE at


Heather Jensen

Interested in learning how to build innovation and entrepreneurship into promotion and tenure? Oregon State University will be hosting the ASCEND webinar, presented by Rich Carter, faculty lead for Innovation Excellence, and Karl Mundorff, Innovation and Entrepreneurship co-director at Oregon State University’s Innovation Enterprise.

Join the webinar

Date: August 20th
Time: 12 PM Alaska time
Register Here

Find a full list of the future ASCEND webinars and watch the recorded webinars you missed at their website.

Aquagga Logo
Integrated Mushroom Solutions is studying the medicinal properties of mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Angie Mendbayar.

 Angie Mendbayar, an intern with the Students2Startups program, is bringing us back to our mushroom roots. Or, more correctly, mycelium “roots.” Mendbayar and her team are studying the medicinal properties of mushrooms and how to best incorporate them into the human diet in order to boost our immune system and possibly help protect us from COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, Mendbayar had been working with her startup partner, Taron Wood, on making mycelium-based disposable cutlery and plates. Like many startups, they pivoted. COVID-19 provided the team with the opportunity to look at another mushroom product — a locally developed, high-quality immune-boosting supplement.

“As the pandemic hit, we saw the surging demand in immune-boosting products and then saw that there were no local commercial producers here in Southeast Alaska. So we started on that idea,” said Mendbayar.

Shortly after, Mendbayar was introduced to a fellow fungi fan, Meg Waite in Fairbanks. Waite joined the team, and they named their startup Integrative Mushroom Solutions. Waite is starting her bachelor’s degree in microbiology with a focus on mycology in Fall 2020 at UAF. Through their work with fungi, IMS aspires to deepen their relationship with food, medicine, and the natural world. The team also aims to become a source of mushroom education and a catalyst for mushroom-based innovations as solutions to the challenges of our time.

No stranger to startups, Mendbayar was an Students2Startups intern last year with a California-based solar energy startup, BoxPower. She saw the 2020 internship opportunity and applied, this time to work on her own startup idea. Thus, she has borne witness to the growth of the S2S program, which is in its second year. Waite also applied for the program to work on IMS.

“Being a new program in Center ICE, S2S is a startup in itself and is a platform where students get a firsthand experience of where academia, science and technology meet the real world,” Mendbayar said.

Mendbayar lives in Juneau and is used to working remotely with people who work and live in Anchorage, Fairbanks and elsewhere. Communication is still one of the biggest challenges with a startup and COVID. “Texting can only go so far,” she said. The IMS team has regular check-ins every Monday and Friday, and while the team does not set expectations on each other, they find as their communication improves they are seeing a better picture of what their short-term goals and tasks should be.

IMS has been reaching out to other mushroom businesses, and so far it has been informative and inspiring, “It just reminds us that we have a long way to go.”

Mendbayar has some advice for budding innovators. “First, don't get fooled or be caught up with the sexiness of being an innovator or an entrepreneur,” she said. “It’s not about being sexy and cool, but about making an impact with your innovation, and that is hard work.”

Her second piece of advice is to assess your impact and footprint and optimize those. The third is to keep your sense and the joy of creating value through what you are doing. For example, being paid by the hour for your work is not the same as creating a sense of value and worth through your passion and craftsmanship.

“I'm just learning to remind myself that having fun with the startup is as valuable as making progress and moving forward,” she said.

Students2Startups is an Alaska Center ICE program supported through funding from the Office of Naval Research. For more information on the program, please contact Nigel Sharp at

Riley Bickford and Tom Marsik
Riley Bickford and Tom Marsik won the IDEAs Award top prize in 2019. Photo by Amanda Byrd.

Next month we will kick off the academic year with a celebration and recognition of the winners of 2020 Innovative Disclosures and Entrepreneurial Activities, or IDEAs, awards. IDEAs recognize entrepreneurial individuals who have developed innovative approaches to research, teaching, and service. You can find information on last year's winners at 2019 IDEAs.

Categories are: (1) Commercialization Award: Best Overall, (2) Nanook Award: Best from All at UAF, (3) Spike Award: Best from All at UAF, (4) Tomorrow’s Innovator Award: All Students and Post-Doctoral Researchers, (5) Inspiration Award: All Faculty, and (6) Creative Award: All Staff.

Watch for announcements of the 2020 winners later in August.


Do you have an innovative idea? One that is related to STEM? Do you want help pursuing it? NSF I-Corps can help you do just that!


Alaska Center ICE provides teams with $2,500 with the expectation that it will be used to find more customers and expand your idea. Your idea could lead you to qualify for more funding and who knows, your idea could be worth millions!


Join today and see where NSF I-Corps can take you

Madara Mason
Madara Mason completed the Stanford workshop this summer. Photo by Lindsay Saunders.

 Innovation may be the best thing that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic. Face-to-face instruction has been put on hold, and the in-person Teaching and Learning Studio that Madara Mason was slated to attend was held online instead.

The workshop, part of the University Innovation Fellows program at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (commonly known as the, was supposed to be held over  an in-person week.

Through necessity it was transformed to be held over two weeks with partially synchronous meetings and partially offline.“The Teaching and Learning Studio is about rethinking about how teaching and learning happens in higher education,” said Mason. “It had an angle to it, and that interested me most, to help people rethink the institutional structures in which they work.”

The focus of the workshop was not only on how teaching and learning happens, but how courses are offered within older institutional structures. Many of the activities were set up to get the fellows to think and talk about innovation happening within those structures.

“Even the way they ran their online learning activity; being an expert in this field, they were doing some things that were new to me,” she adds.

Mason is taking a portion of the knowledge she gained from the program to her UA Provost Faculty Development Team, which includes Amanda White and Rich Collins, to help redevelop the new faculty orientation which takes place Aug. 17-18, 2020.

Mason understands that UAF faculty are dealing with a lot of changes right now and if a faculty member wants to grow in their position, there is currently no central location to find all the resources offered to the faculty. Resources like Center ICE, eCampus offerings, events held by the Provost’s Office, various institutes across campus and by the Provost Faculty Development Team itself. Faculty have to literally stumble across the programs by happenstance unless they are actively seeking them.

The Provost’s Team is creating a Faculty Accelerator, a term borrowed from startup culture, where mentoring networks, learning communities, research partners and teaching cohorts provide a framework for innovation. This will also act as a central location for all of the development resources available to the faculty.

“The activities the were putting me through really helped me uncover the big idea of how we can help faculty become agents of change rather than making them feel like they are passive participants in the process.”

So much change can happen despite the rigidity of institutionalized structures. Faculty can have a sense of control, and that’s what Mason wants to help facilitate