Helping entrepreneurs fight poverty by launching small businesses
When Alfa’s mother Genet came to the U.S. as a refugee from Ethiopia in the early 1980s, her primary goal was to earn enough money to send back home and to save up enough to be reunited with her daughter. Despite finding work as a waitress, Genet faced many of the same challenges of financial insecurity as other working-class families around the U.S. today. Determined to build a better life for herself, creating opportunity for her family required a bold step — starting a business.
Working late into the night after long hours waiting tables, Genet started her own seamstress business, making and selling beautiful gowns inspired by a fusion of Ethiopian and American fashion. The business caught on and began generating extra income, which enabled her to send money back home each month while also saving for the future. Every stitch helped Genet take concrete action towards the life she wanted for her family and her daughter — and provided a source of not only income, but also inspiration, accomplishment and hope.
Alfa took this experience to heart. She recognized the power of entrepreneurship to not only generate immediate financial resources for a family but also to create long-term economic opportunities that span generations. With this first-hand knowledge, Alfa knew how impactful it could be to help more people have the same opportunities.
Tenacious like her mother, Alfa excelled in school and she earned admission to Harvard. As an undergraduate, she connected with her classmate (and future co-founder) Alex Forrester over their shared passion for helping families find financial self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship.
“That little business safeguarded the future of a family,” says Alex, speaking of Genet’s entrepreneurial efforts.
“Alfa’s story changed my life because I thought there must be others out there who dream of a better life for their family and who work so hard for it, and don’t know where to turn for help.”
Alex Forrester, Rising Tide Capital Co-Founder
After graduating from Harvard, Alfa and Alex founded Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit that helps low-income entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses tto create jobs and economic opportunity for themselves, their families and their communities. Rising Tide provides high-quality business education and consulting services which are custom-designed for the needs of entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses in economically distressed communities.
“If we can invest in the great potential of these entrepreneurs in even the lowest-income neighborhoods, we can create thriving businesses that create jobs and opportunity for others.”
Alex Forrester, Rising Tide Capital Co-Founder
Since its inception in 2004, Rising Tide has helped over 3,000 aspiring entrepreneurs to pursue business ventures in everything from candle-making and compost-recycling to medical translation, property management and more.
The central lesson of Alfa and Alex’s experience — and the core conviction of Rising Tide Capital — is this: Entrepreneurs represent one of the most powerful and often overlooked forces for creating jobs and economic opportunity in low-income communities. Every community is filled with hard-working, talented and dedicated people who are working every day to make a better life for their family and children. By investing in those individuals who are stepping forward as entrepreneurs, you can not only make a direct, long-term impact in the life of that family but you also uplift their business, which has a multiplier effect in the community around them.
The training and support provided by Rising Tide dramatically increases the likelihood of success for their business owners. An average of 80 percent of Rising Tide entrepreneurs are still in business after five years, compared to just 50 percent nationally. On average, after two years these entrepreneurs see a 63% increase in household income, a 95% increase in business sales, and a 59% decrease in their reliance on public assistance, according to Rising Tide’s 2018-2019 Annual Report.
Beyond greater financial security, these entrepreneurs also tend to emerge as leaders in their community and find a deeper sense of ownership, control and creative agency in their lives through running their own business. “Rising Tide enables people to translate their creative potential into something that’s self-directed, economically productive and valuable to the world around them,” says Alex.
Building on this success, Rising Tide is partnering with Stand Together Foundation, a member of the Stand Together Community, to offer their services to more entrepreneurs across the country. Rising Tide is now able to serve over 1,000 entrepreneurs each year in New Jersey, and thanks to the investment from Stand Together Foundation, the Community Business Academy is now being expanded into other states across the country. The Rising Tide model is now offered in 10 cities across four states, with plans in the works for further expansion in the future.
Rising Tide believes that recognizing and celebrating the extraordinary potential of each and every person is imperative for helping more people find a sense of meaningful direction. Inspired by her creative, hard-working mother, Alfa envisions a more robust economy with flourishing entrepreneurs at the heart of it all. “How do we rebalance the world of investment and capital to all of this grassroots creativity burgeoning around us?” asks Alfa.
“How can we ensure we have a community and an economy that enables creativity, freedom and opportunity for all?”
Alfa Demmellash, Rising Tide Capital Co-Founder
Alex believes that creativity is the lynchpin for helping communities in economic crisis both nationally and globally. “One of the most powerful tools we can use to fight poverty around the world is the creative entrepreneurial spirit that already exists in every community,” says Alex.
“We envision a network of Rising Tide Communities around the world where entrepreneurship is used as a catalyst for social and economic opportunity.”