For founder Alyssa Bertelsen, Rise Up School of Dance is so much more than a business.
“Rise Up started just out of my own story growing up; I wasn’t able to afford ballet classes and was given a scholarship,” Bertelsen said. “That totally changed my life because I could pursue ballet and it really grew me as a person and I just loved it.”
And so, Rise Up was born — a nonprofit working to ensure finances never keep a child from dancing and prove that a “human first, dancer second” mentality still produces talented dancers. However, after a few years of running the school, Bertelsen found that her business model was not sustainable. With no background in business, Bertelsen sought support in the Master of Business Creation (MBC) program at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. When she left, she wasn’t just one of the first graduates from the program in 2020 — she was more equipped to run her business, and Rise Up has thrived since then.
“I have changed and grown immensely through the program and their continued support and guidance, and I think I’ve also grown a lot in my confidence,” Betelsen said. “This past year coming out of the program has been such a different experience because I’m prepared to advocate for myself and to tackle some things that I just felt pretty nervous about even trying before the program.”
Rise Up was a bit different than the rest of the founders in her MBC cohort — she was the only non-profit organization. Rise Up runs on a school lunch model, meaning that if students qualify for free and reduced lunch, their tuition fees are automatically waived.
“We just want to see kids thrive,” Bertelsen said. “A lot of times, kids that are economically disadvantaged don’t get to participate in the arts and don’t have adult mentors who are consistent with them. We want to do everything we can to bridge that gap for them and be consistent adults in their lives and give them a place for expression and community that’s really safe and empowers them.”
Before the MBC program, Bertelsen had created Rise Up from the ground up; her team was largely people she knew, and the space was small, making growth difficult. However, with the help of the MBC program, Bertelsen was introduced to new hiring practices, different perspectives on financials, and a sustainable growth model.
“I was kind of stuck and [Rise Up] couldn’t really continue on as it had been, but there was no clear way to make that next growth move,” Betelsen said. “I think going through the MBC just gave me a path for that both in the short term and in the long term. I have a lot more clarity in how I’m using my energy and where I’m putting my resources.”
While she acknowledges just how daunting it can feel for someone to critique your business, Bertelsen encourages people to invest their time in the MBC program despite fears.
“If you’re in the program or are thinking about it, it is absolutely worth the vulnerability of showing what you’ve made to somebody and letting them speak to it because the people at the MBC are rooting for you and are going to have your back,” Bertelsen said. “The way that that opens up opportunities you never knew existed will blow your mind. So, be brave and do it because you just can’t get that kind of experience anywhere else.”
While it’s hard for her to pick just one takeaway from her entire experience, the relationships Bertelsen formed during the MBC program were certainly high on the list.
“[The mentors] are so wise, so experienced, and so engaged,” she said. “Having their continued feedback and input in my business as I continue to navigate challenges has been just out of this world.”
Armed with all that she’s taken away, Bertelsen is excited to grow. In fact, Rise Up has just moved locations, increasing capacity from 100 students to 400. Now, Bertelsen can continue to focus on what’s really important — the message of her work.
“Our little tagline is ‘seen, known, loved,’ and that’s the goal: that every kid would feel seen, known, and loved,” Bertelsen said. “For kids to have a place like that in their lives is absolutely life changing. I think it’s important for every kid, and especially kids who might not be getting that elsewhere. We want to be the place that meets that need for them.”
Learn more about Rise Up School of Dance and support the effort by visiting riseupschoolofdance.com.