Alumna's Company Wins National Competition

by Kathryn Sill, Public Relations Writer

A Cedarville University alumna who founded a tech startup has been recognized as the winner of the Second Annual U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) InnovateHER Competition.

Elizabeth (Johnson) Caven, a 2000 graduate of the Cedarville University School of Business Administration, is the founder of UpCraft Club, an online marketplace for digital sewing and hobby patterns that has pioneered a technology allowing offline retailers to sell the digital products as well.



Caven’s company was one of 2,000 from around the country that competed in this year’s InnovateHER Competition, which is co-sponsored by Microsoft and the SBA. The day’s events featured a roundtable discussion at the White House on the topic of women entrepreneurs.

In addition to the small businesses in attendance, the event also featured representatives from large corporations like Amazon and Facebook. 

Following the roundtable, Caven had the opportunity to pitch her company and explain her business model during the InnovateHER Competition. Contestants were given two minutes to make their pitch to a panel that included business professionals and members of the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation. 

Each pitch was judged on the presenter’s ability to show that her business met a need in the marketplace, had the potential for commercialization and had a measureable impact on the lives of women and families.

As the winner, Caven received a $40,000 award, which she will use to expand UpCraft Club’s operations and reach.

“I was really surprised I won, because the other companies I competed against were excellent,” Caven said. “I am grateful for the outcome.”

Caven is no stranger to creating an excellent pitch. Since founding UpCraft Club in 2015, she has won $76,000 in competitions similar to InnovateHER. 

In just its first year of operations, the company has attracted more than 15,000 registered users and has customers in all 50 states and 80 countries around the world. UpCraft Club is headquartered in Iowa.

She is currently working with 500 Startups, an early-stage venture capital firm and startup accelerator based in California. The partnership has required Caven to move to San Francisco for several months.

“It is a sacrifice to be away from my family, even if it is short-term, but my husband has been amazingly supportive and my children are proud of me as they watch me create the company and pursue this opportunity,” Caven said.

Caven says that Cedarville provided her with a solid foundation to build a business, thanks to the practical experience she gained as a student.

“My education at Cedarville helped lay a foundation for my future career,” Caven said. “During my senior year at Cedarville we created a company from scratch in a classroom setting, which cultivated some of the skills that I now use.”

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 3,711 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 100 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and leading student satisfaction ratings. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.