UD Student and Serial Social Entrepreneur Sierra Ryanwallick Catalyzes Positive Change in Delaware

Delaware entrepreneur Sierra RyanWallick

Some might call Sierra RyanWallick an overachiever

She’s raised nearly $100,000 over the past 14 years – most of it going to the Forgotten Cats animal rescue service in Greenville – through AutumLeaf Fundraisers, which sells handmade items at community events made by volunteers (200 so far). In 2020, she co-founded a business that focuses on reducing the 10 million tons of fabric thrown away every year in the United States. Meanwhile, she’s also spent the last few years on the University of Delaware’s First Year Experience Common Reader Committee and as a judge for the Diamond Challenge.

In 2016, she received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding National or Global Service by Young Americans. She later received a Diana Award, which recognizes humanitarian work and community action in the spirit of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. More recently, she won both the post-revenue track of the University of Delaware’s 2021 Hen Hatch funding competition and the 2021 Great Dames Remarkable Ideas Pitch Competition.

Now here’s the kicker: Sierra RyanWallick is a 24-year-old undergraduate at UD who took a gap year after high school to battle Lyme disease and related symptoms. So, yes, she started AutumnLeaf at age 10 and launched UP Cycle Design to repurpose used items headed for a landfill as a college sophomore.

UP Cycle took off through UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship Summer Founders program as an enhancement to an idea that RyanWallick had worked on through the Clinton Global Initiative University. She and co-founder Michelle Yatvitskiy, a UD fashion and design student, are creating decorative iron-on patches to cover stains and holes, cloth stickers for laptops and wall art from clothing donations.

They have been sourcing material from New York-based FABSCRAP, which obtains textile waste from factories. RyanWallick handles the operations side – including fabric sourcing and building a strong advisory board – while Yatvitskiy designs and produces the patches. Their mission is to create affordable, upcycled products with a transparent process while supporting community causes. Their goal? To align each design with a social-justice issue and donate a percentage of the proceeds to that charity.

  • UP Cycle Design logo
  • UP Cycle Design 1
  • UP Cycle Design samples
  • UP Cycle Design world sample

    “We see ourselves as a scalable, for-profit business with a social mission,” RyanWallick said said. “We have an incredible [20-person] advisory group, and we’re trying to raise money and awareness from various pitch competitions.”

    During the inaugural UD MakerGym and Horn Entrepreneurship Make It Happen Challenge in Spring 2021, for example, UP Cycle won an award package that included a $3,248 grant for supplies and materials.

    RyanWallick and Yatvitskiy also have been connecting with local organizations like the Small Business Development Center. Throughout, they’ve asked a lot of questions.

    One thing RyanWallick’s learned is that only 30% of the donations to roadside Goodwill collection bins end up being used, which opens a sourcing opportunity with Goodwill given the increase in volume as people have cleaned out their closets during the pandemic. She also was introduced by former New Castle County Economic Development Director Tamarra Morris Foulkes to The Warehouse, a collaborative workspace run by teens for teens and overseen by the REACH Riverside nonprofit in Wilmington. There, she’s run two LevelUP entrepreneurship, sustainability and design program cohorts through which students create patches and prepare them for market.

    RyanWallick sees herself as an “activator and a connector.”

    “I identify problems and then act to solve them,” she said. “I also have a large network and help introduce people who may need co-founders or help on a specific project. But that’s what I do. What makes my heart sing is being a mentor – being a listening ear and encouraging people, particularly high schoolers. The power of that conversation can drive long-lasting change.”

    To that end, a project she completed for a UD course with Spur Impact led to the launch of a pilot mentoring program to pair millennials with members of Generation Z. Its success led RyanWallick to intern with the organization and transform that pilot into Impact Mentoring, which pairs individuals from any generation to function as thought partners for one another rather than serve in traditional mentor-mentee roles.

    Six Quick Questions with Sierra RyanWallick

    • What’s the question you wish more people would ask themselves? I think you need to be constantly checking in with yourself and asking where you’re at. You need to be more inward-focused than outward-focused to avoid burnout. If I don’t ask myself those questions on a regular basis, I get out of sync.
    • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received? It actually came from Ryan Holiday’s “The Daily Stoic” podcast. He said there’s a difference between being aware and being anxious. You may be working on things that never come to fruition, but you have to keep reminding yourself not to be anxious about that. I’ve spent a lot of time reminding myself and others about that, and it’s changed my life.
    • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your creativity? I’m immunocompromised, so [self-isolating gave] me the opportunity to work full-time on projects and the space to try new things. I started a YouTube channel in August 2020 – which I’ve wanted to do for six or seven years – and have learned to edit videos. All the extra time [was] like a retreat.
    • Is there a particular place in Delaware that fuels your creativity? I do my best thinking walking the trails of White Clay Creek in both Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Newark Reservoir is also a beautiful place.
    • You have a lot on your plate. Is it difficult to say “no” to new opportunities? I’ve gotten better at saying “no” this year. I wrote down everything that I was doing and identified the things that made me happy, the ones where I provided value and that I’m good at. I left one job but started a new one.
    • What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed? I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a healthy college student. After starting UP Cycle Design, it was challenging to find the right balance between that and my schoolwork. When I feel overwhelmed or burned out, I need to get back into sync. I need to reduce the number of stimuli on my system, so I put away the electronics and let my mind wander. I try to do things like mediation, free thinking or even journaling.

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