This rising tide is lifting underserved communities through entrepreneurship training, support

Angela McKnight was not just another politician giving another talk to graduates at another business development program earlier this month at Saint Peter’s University.

The assemblywoman (D-Jersey City) stood before the latest graduates of the Community Business Academy, a nationally recognized program run by Rising Tide Capital, as an example of the impact the Jersey City-based nonprofit can have on underserved communities.

McKnight, first elected to office in 2015, is a 2011 graduate of the program, an example of how the program can impact the state.

“The insights that I’ve gained by helping others acquire the cultivation skills necessary to make their businesses thrive has been invaluable in my legislative work,” she told ROI-NJ.

McKnight feels the program had such an impact on her career that she comes back as an instructor.

“When I first started with RTC years ago, they taught me crucial operational and financial skills,” she said. “Now, as an RTC instructor, I’m able to give back and share these skills with other small business owners and entrepreneurs, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

RTC’s 12-week training program for entrepreneurs on how to start, grow and sustain a business had 248 graduates this fall, bringing its total number of graduates since the program started in 2006 to more than 2,500.

Co-founder and CEO Alfa Demmellash said the program’s history of success is evident statistically. Within two years of graduating, its entrepreneurs achieve a 112 percent increase in their business sales, a 58 percent increase in household income and a 48 percent reduction in the use of public assistance.

State of New Jersey
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight has gone from a Rising Tide Capital student to an instructor.

“The Community Business Academy is the bedrock of Rising Tide Capital’s mission to help entrepreneurs chart a path toward economic independence and sustainability by providing them with the necessary tools, training and knowledge capital,” Demmellash said. “Rising Tide Capital entrepreneurs are talented and innovative, but often lack access to resources and networks.

“After graduation, our entrepreneurs begin their journey toward their business goals with the guidance of our vast network of business experts who continue to provide support and mentoring. As a result, these visionaries — most of whom are from underserved communities — are helping to create more inclusive, attainable and opportunity-generating local economies.”

Demmellash said RTC has four primary programs: the Community Business Academy, the Start Something Challenge, Credit to Capital, and Business Acceleration Services.

All of these programs, she said, are aimed at helping entrepreneurs to achieve self-sufficiency, thrive, and deliver value to their communities.

The program is expanding. It has a hub in Newark and Demmellash said RTC has presence in many parts of the state. She said RTC serves approximately 1,000 entrepreneurs annually with services in English and Spanish in Newark, Jersey City, West New York, Orange, Elizabeth, Union City and New Brunswick.

RTC also is expanding nationally. Through a partnership with another nonprofit, it has a presence on the South Side of Chicago.

Last fall, the program received a $1 million donation from JPMorgan Chase.

Jeanique Riche-Druses, vice president of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, said at the time it was a way to recognize the work RTC does.

“Empowering and supporting local entrepreneurs is a vital component of transforming underserved communities, which is why Rising Tide Capital’s work is so needed.”

The Fall 2018 class marked the largest graduating class in RTC’s history. The ceremony included a keynote address from Michellene Davis, an executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health.

Davis told the graduates that their entrepreneurialism is essential to building a more equitable economy and creating more opportunity.

At the graduation, each entrepreneur received a certificate of graduation, an individualized action plan outlining the next steps to help them reach their business goals, and discounted and exclusive enrollment in RTC’s Business Accelerations Services, which includes year-round support services such as one-on-one coaching.

The Community Business Academy is offered twice a year in the spring and the fall. Participants learn business fundamentals like budgeting, management, marketing, bookkeeping and attracting financing. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish on weeknights and Saturday mornings and they are held in Jersey City, Orange, West New York, Elizabeth and Newark.

RTC is currently accepting applications for the spring session of the Community Business Academy through Feb. 20. Those looking to apply must attend a free informational session.

To learn more about RTC, visit