My Favorites

By Nan Price, Content Manager, MetroHartford Alliance

Meet the Upward Hartford team:

  • Carla Donza, Events & Meetings Manager
  • Marc Anthony Mendes, Events & Meetings Coordinator
  • Jess Morin, Marketing Manager
  • Uchenna Richards, Office Manager
  • Samantha Wanagel, General Manager


CARLA DONZA: It’s home. I’m one of the natives here. I love different cultures and diversity you can find in other cities and I’ve travelled all over the world. I lived in Boston for many years and I found myself back here in Hartford.

What I love it there’s such a sense of community connection here. There are so many diverse neighborhoods in Hartford. It’s easy to get to other places.  And I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, which is exciting. Hartford natives are such cheerleaders for the city. We love when it succeeds.

MARC ANTHONY MENDES:  I recently relocated from Boston. My wife and I fell in love with Hartford. We love discovering all the things to do. There are really cool restaurants and bars and there’s this great dynamic of trees and mountains on the perimeter of a city full of corporate and residential buildings.

JESS MORIN: I grew up in Litchfield County, so I’m also a Connecticut native. I went to school in Boston, worked there, and then moved to New York city. When I was returning to Connecticut to start my own business, I had to think about where I wanted to set up shop.

About a year and a half into my business, after working from home and local coffee shops, I came to an event here and fell in love with Upward Hartford and the people I met. It helped me realize that if I was going to continue to grow my business and sharpen my marketing skills, Hartford is really the spot to grow as a young professional.

Over the last year of working at Upward Hartford, I feel so connected to people across industries—whereas I had only known Hartford as the insurance capital. I’ve been able to see what’s emerging in other industries and how people are creating their own personalities outside of the traditional realms of the Hartford I thought of when I was growing up.

SAMANTHA WANAGEL: I’m a West Coaster. My husband and I moved 14 times in 10 years. In 2014, we needed to relocate to be closer to family, which was all on the East Coast. We knew what we liked about living near cities, oceans, and mountains, and we get it all here. Truthfully, the Hartford Region is like a geographical gym for us. Hartford has really been the only place we’ve been able to call home. Hartford means a lot to us.

UCHENNA RICHARDS: Hartford means a lot to me, too—it means a lot to me that this city does well and we all succeed. I’m a Hartford native born of immigrant parents, so the diversity here is super important. I grew up and completed my high school education in Bloomfield, but there’s a vast difference being in Bloomfield, Simsbury, Avon, or Granby versus being in this city.

Now, I don’t just work here, but I live in this city. So, I am this city. I’ve become a part of Hartford by exploring the city and being involved in so many things.


JESS: At networking and professional development events throughout the city, people are telling the stories of what their companies are doing for Hartford. But we also need to talk about the public/private partnerships, how the nonprofits are feeding into our innovation ecosystem—whether it’s innovation in technology, the arts, or education. Telling the story of Hartford through the public/private sector’s success is valuable and it can solidify what’s made Hartford so unique compared to the regions’ other cities.

SAMANTHA: Jess is right, the private public sector is absolutely a huge part of our story. But that’s from a worker’s perspective. From a human perspective, we need to talk about how that blending of the public/private sectors affect my entire life and how is it a result of being in Hartford? We need to tell those personal stories that show vulnerability and be able to say: My life is different because of Hartford in a good way.

MARC: The first thing comes to my mind is: Do people know what’s going on here? We need to share more about all the things there are to do. There’s so much! As someone who just came here from Boston, I’m discovering that Hartford is a hip city. I can almost see what’s on the horizon.

UCHENNA: You can’t tell the story of Hartford without talking about the people who actually live here and are here 24/7. The Hartford story can’t be told without them and they can’t be forgotten. As these big, beautiful, bright, and innovative things are happening in the downtown area, you’ve got to broaden that radius and be more inclusive to those who live here.


CARLA: We’re so diverse. We’re thriving with innovation. We have a great dining and arts scene. You can be at the shore or out in the country within an hour. You can be in other great cities in no time at all.

JESS: Hartford is an epicenter for innovation. The crossroads that’s created between corporates and startups is really unique here. The startups here have access to Fortune 500 companies. In other larger cities, it might take them years of going to trade shows to foster those relationships. Whereas in Hartford, because of this sense of community and because we’re a smaller city, innovation can happen a little faster.

SAMANTHA: About 50% of the startups in our space are not from Hartford. But they come here because of the connective tissue here in Hartford. When we make one connection for you, you’re going to automatically be connected to 10 other people. So, startups coming from other countries around the globe realize that the value of the connections they make here in Hartford are far beyond what they would have the ability to reach in larger cities. There’s also a dense population of cutthroat industries here that need the leading competitive advantage technology.