Rising Tide presents $35,000 in prizes to winners of pitch challenge

In celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit microenterprise development organization in Jersey City, presented more than $35,000 in business grants to the five winners of its annual business pitch competition Thursday at Loft Lite Venue in Newark.

“These talented creators are innovating, solving problems and building a new future, and we are thrilled to help them activate their full potential,” Alfa Demmellash, co-founder and CEO of Rising Tide Capital, said. “Together, our sponsors, community partners, coaches and our entire team are using the power of restorative investing to equip these business leaders with the right tools to create change in their communities.”

RISE: The Challenge — formerly known as the Start Something Challenge — began with 110 entrepreneurs, with nearly 16,000 votes, 37 judges and 15 corporate volunteers narrowing down the entries to just five standout contestants in five critical sectors: health, community, sustainability, expression and food.

“Restorative investing is the key to creating inclusive communities of entrepreneurs that will catalyze a flourishing and sustainable economy,” Demmellash said.

Alfa Demmellash, right, with the winners of the pitch challenge.

The winners — all of whom were graduates of RTC’s Community Business Academy, a nationally recognized 12-week program that trains entrepreneurs on how to start, grow and sustain a business — pitched their business ideas to a panel of esteemed judges Aug. 1.

Dominique Anderson, founder of Amazing Strides, won the grand prize of $15,000 for her support coordination agency in Glen Ridge, which helps adults with disabilities access customized and inclusive community-based services that address their individual needs.

Inspired by her own experience helping her mother care for her uncle with cerebral palsy, Anderson founded the agency after attending RTC’s Community Business Academy in 2018.

“When you start your own business, you sacrifice a lot — your own startup money, time away from family,” Anderson said. “Winning RISE: The Challenge meant a lot for me.”

Since her win in August, Anderson said she has doubled the number of clients and plans to use the prize money to purchase Medicaid billing software and iPads that will help facilitate at-home consultations and continue to connect clients with the resources that help them to lead more fulfilling lives.

Hilda Mera, co-founder of S&A Auto Repair in Newark, won $5,000 for her family-owned shop, as well as an additional $1,000 for the Community Choice award.

After starting S&A Auto Repair in 2013 with her husband, Jose Masache, Mera, originally from Ecuador, enrolled in RTC’s Community Business Academy in 2015.

Now, S&A Auto Repair empowers women through low-cost auto workshops that benefit local nonprofit organizations that focus on education and homelessness. Because women feel more secure and independent when it comes to the maintenance and safety of their automobiles, Mera said she will use the prize money to expand these resources.

Andres Diaz, founder of ECO-LED House Numbers in Carteret, won $5,000 for the continued sale of his self-sustaining and maintenance-free doorplate numbers that allow property numbers to always be visible with the use of built-in solar-powered LED lights.

Diaz, a recent RTC Community Business Academy graduate who primarily speaks Spanish, said he will use the $5,000 prize money to expand production into more sizes and colors, as well as explore the idea of illuminated mailboxes.

Eugene Barnes, co-owner of Woke Empowerment in Jersey City, gives underserved demographics a voice by exploring social justice through the arts.

The winners with their prize checks.

Along with his wife, Bernadette Barnes, Barnes uses comedy, music, poetry and dance to explore deeper themes like gun violence, mental illness and immigration with youths and communities to foster community understanding and rebuilding.

Since winning $5,000 in the competition in August, Woke Empowerment now works with Jersey City Housing Authority, and Barnes said he is working toward opening his own performance venue.

Jesse McBride founded Mademeals in Weehawken in 2016 after learning how organic, sustainably farmed meals could help control his ulcerative colitis.

Along with Chef Joe Stout, McBride created a menu of healthy meals that can be ordered and delivered to one’s home a la carte or through subscription packages. He enrolled in RTC’s Community Business Academy in 2017 to learn how to better price his meals and target his customers to build the brand.

Mademeals has since increased revenue, hired more employees, rented a larger space and expanded services into corporate catering. With his prize money of $5,000, McBride has hired a social media specialist and plans to hire a delivery driver in the near future.

The funding for the business grants was provided by sponsors including underwriter JPMorgan Chase, Valley Bank, Prudential, PNC, Wells Fargo, Santander and Silverman.

RTC’s Community Business Academy began in 2006 with 15 participants and has now graduated more than 3,000 entrepreneurs from New Jersey and the region. Within two years of graduating, its entrepreneurs average a 95% increase in business sales, a 63% increase in household income and a 59% reduction in the use of public assistance.

“At Rising Tide, we recognize that a significant barrier to sustainability for entrepreneurs is a lack of access to capital, especially for women and minorities, and we are committed to empowering and supporting those looking to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit,” Demmellash said.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Rising Tide Capital in Jersey City also has a hub in Newark, services offered in English, Spanish, and Arabic in East Orange, Elizabeth, Union City and New Brunswick, and a replication partnership with Sunshine Enterprises in Chicago.

To continue expanding business development resources and mentorship to entrepreneurs that allow them to achieve self-sufficiency and deliver value to their communities, Rising Tide Capital will also soon be working with ASPIRE Community Capital in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Lowcountry Local First in Charleston, South Carolina.

Learn more about Rising Tide Capital at risingtidecapital.org.