Great Ideas Get Launched at the UA

Sometimes it takes a university to launch a career. Or at least some help from the University of Arizona Center for Innovation, a boost from the Eller School of Management’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and 19 earnest student interns.

Just ask Stephen Ost. The 2013 computer science grad was a sophomore when he came up with an app called Ufree. The concept was simple: helping students connect with friends between classes. Making the leap from great idea to savvy business model? Not so easy. 

Enter the Center for Innovation’s internship program, where Ost assembled a team of interns to tackle sales and marketing. “Through the center, I was able to get the business mentorship I needed,” he says.  Meanwhile, interns were busily pitching Ufree at sororities, fraternities and campus events. “It was guerrilla-type marketing.” 

Those tactics clinched Ufree’s success. Within two years, some 20,000 UA students were regularly linking up, and the app soon arrived at ASU as well. Ost was named a College Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine in 2013. His creation was eventually acquired, and he migrated into job recruitment technology. Today, he’s a vice president at Paradox, a Scottsdale-based company that taps artificial intelligence to help big companies such as CVS Health, Delta Airlines and Staples recruit and screen potential employees.

It’s a sharp trajectory, rooted in the encouragement Ost enjoyed right here on campus. “I would not be where I am today if not for the UA,” he says. “They provided the mentorship I truly needed.”