Rising Tide Capital founders awarded prestigious Heinz Award

Honor comes with $250K grant for Jersey City-based nonprofit that aims to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship for underserved communities

The Heinz Family Foundation on Tuesday named Alfa Demmellash and Alex Forrester, founders of Rising Tide Capital, the recipients of the prestigious 25th Heinz Award in the technology, economy and employment category.

The honor comes with an unrestricted cash award of $250,000. Rising Tide Capital was one of six groups or individuals to be honored.

Demmellash said she was overwhelmed by the recognition.

“It is a pretty extraordinary and jaw-dropping honor,” she told ROI-NJ. “It’s an honor to not just have the recognition and the award, but for someone to invest in the dream is incredible. And we have big dreams.

“The extent that we can use the award to amplify our work, share what’s good and encourage others to jump in, is incredible.”

Demmellash and Forrester said they founded Rising Tide Capital to create an inclusive entrepreneurship model that removes barriers to opportunity for motivated entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners from low-income communities.

The Rising Tide model includes a Community Business Academy that provides hands-on training in business planning and management, budgeting, marketing, bookkeeping and financing. The organization then provides year-round follow-up support to the graduates through its Business Acceleration Services program, which provides coaching, continuous learning through advanced seminars and master classes, networking, and business procurement and sales opportunities.

Demmellash and Forrester said the assistance doesn’t stop there.

When an entrepreneur is ready to pursue financing for their business, Rising Tide Capital provides comprehensive assistance, including access to a network of lending partners. Most importantly, Rising Tide Capital attempts to weave new and inclusive social capital and networks that enhance the connectivity and resilience of its entrepreneurs in overcoming multigenerational economic and social disparity to build businesses that sustain their families, create jobs and strengthen local economies.

“We named it Rising Tide Capital because there is the saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’” Demmellash said. “While there is truth in this statement, there is also a critical need to recognize that this only works for people who already have ‘boats.’

“At Rising Tide Capital, we work with a talented team and community of partners to make sure this vision is an inclusive and regenerative one. Especially in this unprecedented time of health and economic despair, where 40% of all small businesses are underwater and at risk of permanent closure, we need to act with even more urgency to provide restorative capital and resources to help grassroots entrepreneurs build new ‘boats’ and transform their local businesses for long-term inclusive economic recovery.”

Since its founding, Rising Tide Capital has graduated more than 3,000 individuals from its Community Business Academy, 70% of whom are women and 90% of whom are minorities, and currently serves over 1,000 entrepreneurs annually in New Jersey alone. Graduates see an average 84% increase in business revenue and 62% increase in household income within two years of completing the program.

The nonprofit is based in Jersey City.

Demmellash said she is concerned for all of those businesses in this time of COVID.

“We been working on innovation projects, because the people that we work with, that we’ve worked with, are currently working with and want to work with, are all facing a common challenge, which is they need to pivot,” she said.

“All of our funders and foundation leaders and volunteers who’ve been with us are saying, ‘How do we innovate in the face of this, because we’re looking at 40% of small businesses being potentially permanently closed because of COVID.’

“We know the long-term recovery that is coming is going to require all of our creativity.”

Demmellash said the grant from the Heinz Family Foundation will go a long way. The biggest question: Where to start.

“We have been brain-storming the living daylights out of this,” she said.

Heinz Family Foundation chair Teresa Heinz said this year’s honorees are noted for their efforts in an era of COVID-19.

“For more than 25 years, the Heinz Awards has recognized men and women who demonstrate compassion and dedication to social and environmental good, who take on difficult challenges with courage, and who are improving the lives of others in ways that are both innovative and sustained,” she said.

“In a year dominated by division and the catastrophic effects of a global pandemic, these recipients exemplify not only excellence in their field of work, but also the powerful contributions that one individual can make in building a better world for us all and for future generations.”