Alfa Demmellash and Alex Forrester (the son of former governor candidate Doug Forrester) founded Rising Tide Capital three years ago. It runs a Community Business Academy, a 10-week course where individuals receive training and resources to create economic opportunities for themselves and their community.
The academy takes place four times a year, and the students are sponsored by downtown corporations such as Goldman Sachs, Fidelity Investments, and JP Morgan Chase.
On July 26, the graduation took place for those who completed the most recent cycle of the Community Business Academy. As of July 27, 36 graduates have come through the Community Business Academy.
Those graduates have started a 99-cent store on Martin Luther King Drive, an independent music production company, and an outdoor clothing stand, all in Jersey City.Business is their business
Demmellash and Forrester recently explained why they are in the business of helping others to be in business.
"Rising Tide Capital was the result of many years of conversation and study with Alex in terms of in what way we can make the world a better place," Demmellash said.
Rising Tide's efforts have earned them the attention of O Magazine (Oprah Winfrey's publication) and financial guru Suze Orman. Bridging downtown with rest of town
As residents of downtown Jersey City, Forrester and Demmellash have seen first-hand how investors have wanted to start businesses in that lucrative waterfront area. But Forrester also saw that his neighbors wanted to do more than make money, by helping organizations like Rising Tide.
"Alfa and I find ourselves constantly being contacted and offered assistance by passionate, engaged residents of the downtown area who hear about our work," Forrester said. "They want to be involved and participate in the development of Jersey City - all of Jersey City."
Downtown residents and businesses have mentored others.
Amy Dubin of Janam Tea Shop on Grove Street has acted as a business mentor to Rising Tide's graduates.
The IT department at Goldman Sachs has set up Rising Tide's technology center and offered a course in technology training to Community Business Academy graduates.
Another downtown presence that has been helpful to Rising Tide has been the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation (JCEDC), a private not-for-profit corporation that was formed in 1980 to stimulate economic growth in Jersey City. From their office at 30 Montgomery St. near Exchange Place, the JCEDC is currently helping Rising Tide put together a proposal to receive more funding from the state for the Business Academy and continue operating Rising Tide. How they sign up
According to Demmellash, the effort to help new clients begins with a certain procedure.
"First, either by phone or in person, they come to our office and sit down and say 'I want to start a new business'," Demmellash said.
That leads to a 10-minute interview to gauge why the client wants to start a new business and the level of their commitment.
If they are accepted into the academy, they spend four hours every Saturday for 10 weeks in a program where longtime New York City businessman Jay Savulich instructs students on how to put together a business plan, business management, and marketing, as well as how to access resources for micro loans and grants.
Those who graduate continue to work with Rising Tide Capital through their Club CEO, which provides further one-on-one counseling.
While their current setup has been successful, Demmellash and Forrester both agree they have become a victim of their success.
"We have already 200 people looking to get into next Community Business Academy, and we will have to narrow them down before we start the next academy in September," Forrester said. Rising up in the non-profit world
How did the two Harvard graduates get into this business? For Rising Tide's CEO Demmellash, it was personal experience. A native of the African country of Ethiopia, she emigrated to the U.S. in 1992 at the age of 13.
She joined her mother already in America, who worked as a waitress by day and a seamstress by night. It was the money saved from her mother's hard work that helped bring her to this country.
But her mother encountered a myriad of problems in trying to expand upon her seamstress business.
"She always said, 'I can't write a business plan so I can't really go after this resources,' "and that was a really big catalyst for me."
Forrester, the son of former New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Douglas Forrester, is Rising Tide's Chief Operating Officer.
Forrester said while he had a well-to-do upbringing outside Princeton, his family imparted upon him life lessons on caring for other human beings.
"Growing up my parents taught me the purpose of life is to learn how to love better," Forrester said, "and that love is not just a feeling, but it is a concrete action." Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org