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Rising Tide Capital

Alfa Demmellash CEO/Co-founder, Rising Tide Capital

Alfa Melesse Demmellash was born and raised in Ethiopia. She came to the United States at the age of twelve with a keen interest in poverty alleviation and conflict resolution. Alfa graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2003, where she majored in Government. During her time at Harvard, her interest in conflict resolution brought her to Rwanda. Recognizing the role economic poverty played in fueling conflicts, Alfa turned her focus to economic empowerment as a strategy to achieve peaceful societies.

Named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2015, Alfa co-founded Rising Tide Capital in 2004 to empower underserved urban entrepreneurs in northern New Jersey to start and grow successful businesses. RTC’s signature program is the nationally-recognized Community Business Academy – an intensive business training program coupled with year-round consulting and management support, which equips entrepreneurs to better operate their small businesses.

On average, a new Rising Tide business opens every seven days. Many Rising Tide Entrepreneurs use the increased earnings from their business to supplement low wages, transition out of unemployment and build on assets that allow them to better provide for their families. As their businesses get stronger, Rising Tide Entrepreneurs become local employers, tax-payers, volunteers, donors and role models to youth in their communities.

To date, 2,397 entrepreneurs have graduated from the Community Business Academy, forming a community of change agents and local leaders that are transforming their neighborhoods from within. Within two years after graduating, these entrepreneurs experience an average 112% increase in business revenue and 58% increase in household income. Collectively the incomes they generate return $3.80 for every dollar invested in Rising Tide Capital.

Today the organization has operations in five locations throughout northern New Jersey and runs the state’s largest annual business pitch competition, the Start Something Challenge, serving entrepreneurs from dozens of towns across the state. Alfa is actively building a community of funders to support RTC’s national replication through a network of licensed partners, enabling many cities seeking to invest in the existing entrepreneurial energy of their communities to get a head start.

Alfa has received a number of awards and recognition for her work with Rising Tide Capital. In 2009, she was selected and profiled as a CNN Hero, and recognized by President Barack Obama during a speech at the White House. She was recognized as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Changing the World with Philanthropy in August 2012, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from St. Peter’s University and New Jersey City University.

Major media features include the Suze Orman Show, The Larry King Show, O, The Oprah Magazine, Inc.com, BusinessWeek.com, The Star-Ledger, Entrepreneur.com as well Essence Magazine’s 40th anniversary edition where she was recognized as a “40 under 40 Dream Maker.”

Alfa currently serves on the boards of St. Peter’s University and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship, education, conflict resolution, and the environment.

Doug Forrester Founding Chairman

Mr. Forrester has been a leader in both business and public service in New Jersey for more than 30 years. Currently he is Chairman and CEO of Integrity Health, a healthcare services company. Previously he founded Benecard Services, Inc. and Heartland Fidelity Insurance Co. and built them into $250 million businesses. They provide risk and program management services making prescription and vision benefits more affordable for public and private employers. Mr. Forrester has also served as Consulting Director for Public Practice Issues for Aon/ASA Consulting and a Senior Lecturer at the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught public policy at The College of New Jersey as well as Monmouth and Rutgers Universities.

In addition to his business career, Mr. Forrester has had a distinguished record of public service. He served in NJ Governor Tom Kean’s administration as Assistant State Treasurer. Following this role, he served as the State’s Director of Pensions and Benefits from 1984 to 1990 which included oversight of its seven retirement systems and million-member health benefit plan. In this position, he became the first senior state official in the nation to fund post-retirement health liabilities as pension system obligations. Mr. Forrester also served on the township committee and as mayor of his home town of West Windsor. Most notably, he was the Republican nominee in New Jersey for United States Senator in 2002 and Governor in 2005.

He is the Chairman of the Board of Rising Tide Capital, a 501(c)3 micro enterprise and development organization as well as involved with various civic and charitable organizations.. Doug and Andrea have been married 34 years and have three children: Alex, Ryan, and Briana. Mr. Forrester holds a B.A. in Philosophy & Government from Harvard University and M.Div. in Theology & Politics from Princeton Seminary.

John Mahoney Vice Chairman

Mr. Mahoney is an Adjunct Professor of Business Ethics at Stern and the CEO and founder of the financial services firm 1st Worldwide Financial Partners, LLC, located in Red Bank, New Jersey. The firm, a member of the NASD, provides full service institutional and retail brokerage to money management professionals. Additionally the firm develops asset management companies providing highly focused fund management for its clients.

Mr. Mahoney previously headed a financial services management consulting firm based in Princeton, New Jersey called M Management Group, Inc. which provided investment, capital raising, strategic, sales and marketing, infrastructure, financial, and corporate governance consulting services to the financial services industry. Additionally he was the Chief Administrative Officer to Patricof & Co. (Apax Partners), a leading international private equity investment firm with more than $11 billion in assets under management. He assisted in the day-to day management of the company and was also responsible for all non-initial investment activities of the firm including all financial, technology, operations, administrative, and exit investment strategy.

Previously he was Executive Vice President and Senior Managing Director (acting Chief Operating Officer) at Fuji Futures Inc., managing the day-to-day operations of the company. He was also responsible for the global marketing of the product to institutional customers.

Mr. Mahoney was the Director of Global Marketing for financial futures and fixed income prime brokerage at Credit Suisse First Boston and in charge of selling various financial products to institutions. He also assisted in the creation of structured product and other products such as PrimeClear and PrimeRisk. He also served in various financial and marketing positions in the Institutional Financial Futures and Options division at Merrill Lynch & Co. in both London and New York. In addition to his extensive array of experiences in business leadership, he has served on the boards of numerous non-profits.

Mr. Mahoney holds an Executive MBA from the NYU Stern School and a BSBA in accounting from Georgetown University.

Ron Gravino Treasurer

Ron Gravino, a resident of Middlesex County, is a financial executive currently serving as VP of Finance and HR for Invidi Technologies of Princeton, NJ. Prior to that, he was a financial and management consultant in private practice for over 15 years, specializing in start-up ventures and turnaround management and Chief Financial Officer for Squibb-Novo Inc., the largest international pharmaceutical joint venture between Squibb Corporation of Princeton and Novo Industri A/S of Denmark.

Mr. Gravino was appointed Commissioner of the New Jersey Highway Authority by Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Commissioner Gravino was selected by Governor Donald DiFrancesco to serve as Chairman of the Authority on September 6, 2001, having the distinction of being the youngest Chairman and Commissioner in NJ history at the time.

While a NJHA Commissioner, Mr. Gravino chaired or served on the Audit Committee, Purchasing Committee, Engineering Committee, Personnel Committee, Finance Committee, and Maintenance Committee of the Board. He acquired significant experience in financial, operational and transportation issues during his tenure. Mr. Gravino also served as liaison to the New Jersey State Police for the Authority.

Commissioner Gravino also served as President of the Garden State Arts Center Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Garden State Cultural Center Fund, whose mission is to bring free programming to senior citizens, school children and other deserving New Jerseyans, and was instrumental in creating the Thomas H. Kean Scholarship program and bringing evening classical performances free of charge to all NJ residents at the PNC Bank Arts Center. He was presented with the Eagle Award by the US Marine Corps RS New Jersey for efforts and assistance in the Marines’ recruiting effort throughout the Garden State.

Mr. Gravino also is recognized as an expert in State and Federal campaign regulation, and as a result served as Treasurer or advisor for Governors Kean, Whitman, DiFrancesco, and several gubernatorial and Senatorial candidates. He is currently political treasurer for the NJ State Police and the NJ Republican Senate and Assembly committees, as well as NJ Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-7).

A licensed private pilot, he serves as Chairman of the Newark Liberty International Airport Board and is a member of the Governor’s Aviation Advisory Council. He was recently appointed as the NJ Assembly Speaker’s choice for the NJ Transportation Review Commission. Commissioner Gravino raises funds for several well-known charitable organizations in NJ.

Ariadne Papagapitos Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Fundraising Committee Chair

As the Special Assistant to the President for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Program Associate for Peace and Security program, Ms. Papagapitos assists with various internal and external presidential initiatives and helps manage all aspects of the Peace and Security grant portfolio. Prior to joining the Fund, she worked on a microfinance project with an NGO in Bangalore, India, as a researcher for a human-rights lawyer in London, and at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece.

Ms. Papagapitos has also served as a manager in the Media Villages Department of the 2004 Athens Olympic Committee. She is a graduate of Union College, where she majored in Classics and spent a semester studying and working in Kenya. She also holds a Master of Science in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Matthew M. Barnes Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board

Matthew M. Barnes has over 13 years of experience in corporate reputation management, executive positioning and strategic philanthropy, having served as aide or strategic advisor to members of Congress and the UK Parliament, business leaders, and foundation heads. He has an extensive background in strategic planning, government relations, and issue management. Matthew and his team serve as counselor and administrative manager to individuals and institutions seeking to build legacies through philanthropy and charitable giving-among them PSEG, Xerox (Middle East, North Africa), Avis Budget Group, the Egyptian American Community Foundation, among others.

Matthew was previously an analyst at Chase Securities, the investment banking arm of Chase Manhattan Bank, and philanthropic advisor to David T. Kearns, chairman emeritus of the Xerox Corporation. Additionally, Matthew has worked as a research assistant to two members (and future cabinet ministers) of the UK Parliament: Rt. Honorable Alan Milburn and Rt. Honorable Stephen Byers. He successfully managed U.S. Congressman Scott Garrett’s (NJ-5) congressional campaign during the 2004 election cycle, and continues to serve as counselor to the Congressman.

Matthew earned a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies and Political Science from Purdue University and studied at the London School of Economics as a Hansard Scholar. Matthew’s commentary and analysis on philanthropy and executive positioning have appeared in Forbes magazine, The New York Times, Radar magazine and Campaigns & Elections magazine, among others. Matthew and his wife, Martina, live with their two children in Jersey City.

Aicha Balla Co-Chair, Strategic Advisory Board

Aicha Balla graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Economics in 1999. Upon graduation she joined JPM Chase as a Global Markets Analyst in Capital Markets. After spending 18 months in the Financial Institutional Origination group she moved into a sales role within the Institutional Fixed Income team. She quickly became one of the top producers by developing and maintaining top tier investor relationships from 2001-2014. In 2015, she decided to take a step back from sales and joined the Human Resources team at JPM. In this role she was responsible for developing strategies for hiring diverse talent across the Corporate & Investment Bank in the Investment Banking, Treasury Services, Global Corporate Bank, Markets and Investor Services businesses globally. She was instrumental at increasing hiring numbers across people of color, veterans, people with disabilities and female talent within those divisions. Aicha was involved in several business resource groups at JPM including Women on the Move, BOLD, Adelante, Black Leadership Forum and Women in Investment Banking.

Recently, Aicha moved to Royal Bank of Canada in July 2019 and rejoined the Capital Markets Short Term Fixed Income group. She is looking forward to continuing to contribute at a high level in a sales capacity and also sharing in her gained knowledge and expertise of diverse hiring strategies. She looks forward to partnering with RWomen, a business resource group continuing her support of the advancement of female talent on Wall Street.

Aicha is very passionate around volunteerism and giving back to her community. She first became involved with RTC in September of 2015. In late 2016 she joined the Strategic Advisory Board and has been the Co-Chair since late 2017.

Aicha is also a longtime supporter of World Vision, Plan International, Children’s International and Save the Children.

In her free time she enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with friends and family.

Anand Devendran Vice President, TJX Companies

Mr. Devendran is a Vice President at TJX Companies – the parent company to TJMaxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and Sierra Trading Post. He oversees consumer engagement across loyalty and payments, e-commerce transactions, and mobile strategy across US, Canada, and European markets. In his role, he oversees consumer marketing, retail store implementation, and e-commerce risk and integration strategies. Mr. Devendran brings experience in strategy and execution – focusing on initiatives that drive top and bottom line improvements.

Previously, Mr. Devendran held various roles at American Express including Global Merchant Services, OPEN for Small Business, and the Strategic Planning Group. Mr. Devendran also has experience in management consulting at Booz Allen Hamilton and in publishing operations at Random House.

Mr. Devendran was born in India and grew up in the Chicago-land area where his family owned and operated a small business. Mr. Devendran graduated from MIT with an SB in Mechanical Engineering and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives with his wife and two kids in the Boston area.

Joe Masterson

A successful entrepreneur, Joe Masterson sold his Employee Benefits Consulting business in 2012. This freedom has allowed Joe to combine his love of teaching with his passion for building communities by supporting new micro businesses and helping existing business survive in difficult economic times. His newest venture dedicated to this passion is called Nichols Advisory (NA). NA brings the resources together to support businesses regardless of their ability to initially pay for service. It is founded on the belief that small businesses are the economic backbone of our country and need specialized support to help pride for their employees and their families.

Before entering the Insurance business Joe’s first job was as a high school teacher and coach. He is also the former chair of the Education and Training Committee for a United Benefit Advisors, a national insurance consulting cooperative. Joe has been involved with many other start-ups outside of his Consulting practice. Most recently Joe lead a team that started a new non-profit initiative in Union County to house, counsel and support youth that age-out of the foster care system. Joe founded a regional Junior Olympic Volleyball Club that has won several regional titles. Joe currently lives in Watchung, NJ with his wife, Lydia. They raised two daughters who are both educators and coaches.

Alex J. Ros CEO, Open Sky Expeditions

Alex (Alejandro) Ros is a multilingual and cross-cultural expert in travel and a photographer-videographer. He has traveled to over 70 countries and currently specializes in special projects and management/technology solutions for the travel industry as well as creative video production.

Alex has over seven years of experience developing, leading, and operating tours for Travel Dynamics International, one of the top global tour operators of high-caliber educational programs aboard small ships. There he has held diverse positions of increasing responsibility, including-amongst others-tour manager, field researcher, and Director of Program Development & Management, handling complex itineraries throughout Africa, Europe, the Americas, Antarctica, the Arctic and the South Pacific. While based in the company’s home office he was also in charge of managing all of the field staff, drafting the sailing schedules for the company’s ships, and conducting solo scouting trips and designing new programs in novel and remote locations throughout Africa-the latter an area he has continued to focus on upon recently returning to an independent contractor relationship with the company.

Prior to Travel Dynamics, Alex’s related experiences include working as a Research Assistant & Translator in Cuba for two months, writing for Let’s Go Travel Guides in Central America, and working for Rand McNally Map & Travel Company. His professional direction was also influenced by his own international upbringing. The son of Cuban exiles, Alex was raised in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Chile before moving to the United States at age 13. His first language is Spanish, though he learned English at a young age in international schools (and is currently also fluent in French and Italian, comfortable in Portuguese, has conversational ability in Greek, and knowledge of basic Arabic).

The drive to explore and finding a forum to be exceptionally creative with it have been at the root of Alex’s path in travel. Other pursuits have been central to the journey as well. Alex is a singer and musician, a freelance photographer with an extensive portfolio, and over the last two years he has delved into video, a creative form which he is finding to be the most dynamic of all. He has since produced a number of short promotional marketing videos for non-profits including the Abraham Path Initiative and Cuba Archive, and is on track to produce more.

Alex has a B.A. from Harvard University in Government. He currently resides in Jersey City, NJ, where he has lived since 2004-the year he came to know Rising Tide Capital. Alex has since been a regular volunteer and has even gone through the Community Business Academy, which he can personally attest anyone can benefit from. He looks forward to starting his own business capitalizing on his creative talents and travel experiences in the near future.

Kristin Sharp Partner, Entangled Studios

Kristin Sharp is a Partner with Entangled Studios, focused on building out the future of work, automation, and ed/workforce technologies portfolio.

Prior to joining the company, Kristin co-founded the Shift Commission and launched the ShiftLabs and Work, Workers, and Technology projects at New America, examining the impact of automation and AI on the workforce. Earlier in her career, she had a long stint in technology, innovation, and national security policy in the US Senate, working in senior staff roles for senators and committees on both sides of the political aisle.

When she isn’t working to transition our education and workforce systems from the industrial economy to a knowledge-based one, Kristin is running, hiking, biking, or swimming to keep up with two energetic boys, and is an avid reader of sci-fi/dystopian fiction.