CASE STUDY | Economic Development & Enterprise

LNJ 2012 Alfa Demmellash, CEO/Co-Founder, Rising Tide Capital

Alfa Demmellash at Lead-NJ seminar event

We recently interviewed Alfa Demmellash at a seminar where she was panelist about issues related to economic development. Alfa is a highly accomplished businesswoman who is passionate about working with struggling entrepreneurs in inner cities who want to start-up their own businesses.

LEAD NJ: Why did you want to become a Lead NJ Fellow?

ALFA: My Co-founder Alexander Forrester had gone through the program a year prior to me and I saw the impact it made on him and the following year he nominated me. He appreciated being in a learning community with other leaders grappling with some of the most complex issues of our time. It’s New Jersey focused, on an array of issues, whether it was going out to visit the courts, as part of a global economy and what that looks like—to visiting a state prison and seeing what the systemic failures are that affect the economy. There’s much you can read about certainly, and discuss with colleagues, but getting the opportunity in a structured classroom environment where you gain exposure, where you are get experience and touch and see everything personally is a very positive experience. Lead New Jersey is very different than what you might get at a higher education environment because you are in a classroom environment with a variety of different issues that you are processing and it’s experiential, with others who have experience. They may be coming at it from a different industry or perspective, but your classmates are your teachers. It’s one of the best executive education experiences I’ve ever encountered. It’s a really exciting way to learn.

LEAD NJ: What did you like best about your time with Lead-NJ?

ALFA: When you are leading an organization or a cause in my case, you can get pretty carried away doing a lot of work, like everyone else. Having structured time that takes you out of the weeds to pull you up and say let’s look at the trees together. Let’s look at where we need to accomplish together. Let’s learn together. That structured time is invaluable. Anytime you pause, you are appreciative of not only what it does for you as a human being—to slow down, process information, learn new things, to be able to change course, where that may be necessary. It’s also a lot of fun to do this with people. Industries that may seem farfetched, or that you may have no insight into and have fellow classmates explain to you, “I work in pharmaceuticals and here’s what we’re grappling with” or “I run a foundation and I know you’re on the other side of the philanthropic community, on the recipient end and here’s some of the issues we’re grappling with,” or a guy who runs a farm in New Jersey and he teaches you about peaches and the ins-and-outs of what farming peaches looks like. That diversity of experiences like these makes the world a little more accessible and makes civic engagement that much more appealing and possible.

"Having structured time that takes you out of the weeds to pull you up and say let’s look at the trees together. Let’s look at where we need to accomplish together. Let’s learn together. That structured time is invaluable."

LEAD NJ: When did you feel you’ve made the most impact as a leader?

ALFA: I’m the most proud when I participate in creating a platform that allows other people to truly connect to their passion, their purpose and realize they can do phenomenal things. At Rising Tide Capital I’m surrounded by amazing entrepreneurs who are in various stages of struggle as they are starting their businesses and we provide them with a platform, whether it’s through events or press opportunities where they are communicating about what’s important about their business or what they are trying to do. I stand back in amazement.

I have an entrepreneur who started a Montessori school down the block from the Rising Tide Capital offices and I would watch on Facebook when she would post a fundraising opportunity for the school. I saw someone who wasn’t a parent or in any way connected to the school, a gentleman who runs a pest extermination company who said he would pick-up a proposal and sponsor them. I watch this fabric of humanity where people are making a choice, civically to do their part to move the pieces together so the whole is worth more than when they are doing it themselves. Being a part in any way with smart platforms that allow very fluid ways for humanity to find its best self and express it is an incredibly humbling experience and fills me with great pride and joy to do something like that in New Jersey.

Alfa Demmellash on panel at Lead-NJ seminar event

LEAD NJ: What makes an inspirational leader?

ALFA: I subscribe to a notion of servant leadership. At the end of the day you realize you can set the vision, you can listen, you have to stay in touch with the interests most relevant to the people who surrounded you. You have to meet people where they are and invest in the capacity of those who are the closest to the mission and work at hand. You are reliant on them and must take care of them, love and listen to them. Being vulnerable to them builds a relationship of trust so people can bring issues that are fundamentally important. This could potentially lead to either a great opportunity or a great source of failure. It’s about servant leadership, it’s about listening, it’s about serving those around you who can help you implement your leadership goals.

For more information go to Rising Tide Capital