University of South Florida

Muma College of Business

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Unique Alston

Student Spotlight: USF's Unique Alston carves a path in entrepreneurship with Fintech X|Accelerator connections

ST. PETERSBURG – Unique Alston used to sell shoes as a side business in high school. Together with her sister, Cherish, they would resell gently worn sneakers to their friends in Virginia. From there, she knew entrepreneurship would play a huge role in her college career. 

Although she discovered the University of South Florida late into her college application process, she ultimately chose USF and the Muma College of Business for its strong offerings in fintech and entrepreneurship.

Unique Alston

“My sister and I ran a business selling shoes in high school,” said Alston, a junior at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance. “We learned a lot in running our first business but were ready to grow from that and seriously learn about entrepreneurship while discovering what ideas we want to pursue.”

Ultimately, Alston decided to enroll at USF because of the opportunities available to budding entrepreneurs. 

As a freshman, Alston’s three jobs kept her schedule busy. But she wanted to be more involved in student clubs and organizations. To make up for the lack of involvement, she attended every business school networking event to meet like-minded peers and to explore entrepreneurship opportunities.

unique alston

“I found out about all the opportunities available to me by going directly to the entrepreneurship department to learn about events,” said Alston. 

Because she was such a familiar face, Unique and her sister, Cherish Alston, were invited by the school to attend the 2023 Fintech X|Accelerator networking events.

The Fintech X|Accelerator is an initiative between the Tampa Bay Wave and the Muma College of Business that brings together innovative fintech startups. The program provides the resources and knowledge the startups need to grow while introducing them to Tampa Bay’s business community.

“It was a little intimidating at first,” said Alston. “There weren’t many other students and to get noticed, I knew we had to start introducing ourselves and making connections.”

One of those connections was Will Freeman, lead organizer for a Techstars-affiliated Startup Weekend, and founder of Freeman Ventures. 

Will Freeman

“I was very impressed by Unique's professional disposition right off the bat,” said Freeman. “Unique and her sister, Cherish, were the first people I spoke with at the fintech event, and I would have never known they were undergraduate students if they had not told me all about their academic endeavors.”

After connecting at the Fintech|X Accelerator reception, Alston invited Freeman to be a panelist at the “How to Start Your Own Business!” event in October 2023. Alston partnered with the USF Nault Center for Entrepreneurship to organize an event where college student entrepreneurs shared their experiences and advice on starting a successful business.

image of business panel

From there, Alston became involved in one of Freeman’s entrepreneurship events, Techstars Startup Weekend— a three-day program where aspiring entrepreneurs can experience startup life. 

Over one long weekend, attendees will pitch their startup ideas, form teams, and work to transform their ideas into a business. The event culminates in a pitch competition on Sunday evening, where teams present their businesses to a panel of esteemed judges. 

This year, Startup Weekend is returning to Tampa Bay on March 15-17 and will be co-hosted by the USF Nault Center for Entrepreneurship. 

“This event is 100% volunteer-based,” said Freeman. “Unique has been an invaluable member of the organizing team who has helped me in the planning process and will support this year’s event.”

Alston is on track to graduate from USF in 2025 with a degree in business analytics and information systems. She will have completed her bachelor’s degree in two years and go on to work for the government for two years as part of the CREST Scholarship for Service contract.

Alston is using her entrepreneurial knowledge and connections to build her future and plans to start and grow a business while working in cybersecurity.

“Ultimately, I would like to continue my career in cybersecurity and hopefully have my entrepreneurial business running alongside that,” said Alston. 

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