Business accelerator expands and offers affordable housing

A 20,000 square foot redeveloped building on Jersey City’s Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is the new national headquarters of Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit founded 15 years ago.

When completed, 311 MLK will house an Urban Entrepreneurship Accelerator for folks from all over the state who are eager to start a business. They can come to the building for classes, guidance, coaching and connection to sources of funding.

Jeffrey Allen, the owner of Property Maintenance Guys, credits Rising Tide for his turnaround.

“I would have went out of business at least six months in because I would have made the same mistakes I made the first time. I would have tried to do everything myself. I wouldn’t have had access to capital,” said Allen in an interview with NJTV News in 2016.

“The idea is that a rising tide does lift all boats. But, you need a boat. And so in a place like Jersey City that’s gone through a wave of investment and opportunity, the question is did the people that live here, do the people that call Jersey City home, do the people that call Martin Luther King Jr. Drive home, do they get to participate in this story? And that’s why Rising Tide exists, to make sure that happens,” said Alex Forrester, co-founder and chief strategy and information officer for Rising Tide Capital.

Jeffrey Robinson, the academic director of Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, says it’s not just about what a business accelerator offers, it’s also about what entrepreneurs bring to the experience.

“They need to be focused on what they’re doing, but willing to accept some critique, some criticism, in some cases, some advice from other folks. Sometimes entrepreneurs don’t want to listen to anybody else,” said Robinson.

The building will have a day care and play space because it has 10 affordable, two-bedroom apartments ready for families to call them home.

“Can you imagine being that single mom living in the affordable housing unit to be able to come home to know that she can drop off her kids in a place where they’re safe, they can play. Where she can go and get important lessons for her own life, be able to build her business and be able to know that all of the services that she needs are right here, right in her community,” said Alfa Demmellash, co-founder and CEO of Rising Tide Capital.

311 MLK is a partnership of private, nonprofit and public entities, such as the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority loaning Rising Tide $1.5 million.

“It’s these projects that transform not neighborhoods — but lives,” said Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority.

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham said history is repeating itself on a street that used to be called Jackson Lane.

“Jackson Lane was named after two brothers who were ex-slaves who had a successful farm in this property on Martin Luther King Drive. That’s where it started. That’s where it started, and this is where it will continue to grow,” said Cunningham.

Rising Tide Capital operates in six other cities in New Jersey and Chicago. The co-founders say the nonprofit is guiding 1,000 entrepreneurs right now and has graduated 2,700 from its Community Business Academy. Rising Tide says it’s transforming the underserved.

“Take a little piece of that ribbon home with you. It symbolizes the breaking down of barriers, and it symbolizes our participation, your participation in that wonderful story of people who cannot be separated from their dreams,” said Forrester.