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Alfa Demmellash, CEO of Rising Tide Capital.

It takes more than a pandemic to crush the indomitable spirit of New Jersey entrepreneurs, and the 121 graduates of Rising Tide Capital’s Community Business Academy – some of whom completed online coursework while recovering in a hospital from COVID-19 – are proof of that.

Alfa Demmellash, CEO and co-founder of Rising Tide Capital, the nonprofit that launched the academy that has graduated more than 3,000 entrepreneurs from its 12-week business course since 2006, said the resilience of its 2021 pandemic class is an inspiring testament to what nonprofits and the businesses that support their mission can do by working together.

Speaking at NJBIA’s “Bridging the Gap” Summit on Wednesday that brought together nonprofit and for-profit businesses, Demmellash said her nonprofit’s “passion and purpose” is helping struggling entrepreneurs rebuild their lives and their communities through new businesses. The pandemic class that graduated in a virtual ceremony Jan. 21 will be a source of inspiration and pride to the academy and the 40 communities the entrepreneurs hail from for years to come.

“There’s a tremendous entrepreneurial energy in our communities, in many, many cities and towns, and we believe it’s that existing energy that’s going to actually help us rebuild our economy and create the types of jobs that are needed in the future,” Demmellash said.

Rising Tide Capital, like many nonprofits, needed to pivot when the pandemic hit New Jersey in 2020 and started providing more of its support services in a digital format, Demmellash said. The nonprofit also needed to emphasize the “personal approach” in its outreach to its funding partners and community partners whom it depends on to support its mission.

“It’s very much a personal relationship that’s not based on any transactional ambition,” Demmellesh told NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka during the fireside-chat style portion of the online summit. “Right from the get-go it’s really about how can we be in a mutual relationship of both respect and visibility.

“If I can see… where your challenges might be, what you’re trying to achieve with the work that you’re doing with your organization, or what your team is trying to achieve, then I have a much greater sense of how I might be able to be of value to what you are trying to do and what things I might be able to ask of you where I might have need for support,” Demmellash said.

Successful collaboration with for-profit partners is tremendously important if nonprofits want to succeed in their mission and achieve long-term, lasting results.

“There is a wonderful African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,’” Demmellash said. “That ‘together’ piece is not as easy as it seems. I’m sure everyone here would acknowledge that because it requires us to slow down, to see each other… to build trust.

“We can build a fast solution that won’t go anywhere – and the world is piled full of solutions that nobody’s touching,” Demmellash said. “So, yeah, it’s learning to pull back, to reflect and create spaces where we draw visibility and understanding.”