These three business leaders are prime examples of the type of changemakers Rising Tide Capital co-founder Alfa Demmellash is hoping to foster through RTC’s Community Business Academies.

Alysis Vasquez and Perla Nieves

Midnight Market // Founded 2016  // 15 part-time employees

Midnight Market

Perla Nieves (left), her husband Isael, and Alysis Vasquez

Chef Alysis Vasquez already had three jobs when she decided to partner with her best friend, Perla Nieves, to create New Jersey’s first indoor foodie nightlife event. Why add another? “We saw an opportunity to make a difference in our community,” Vasquez says. “Progress is a beautiful thing, but left unchecked, it leaves many people behind. We want to help shape the way Jersey City progresses.”

The duo’s solution is an affordable monthly international night market that appeals to newcomers and longtime residents alike, and that serves to help promote and incubate small local food businesses. Their vendors-first approach goes beyond low participation fees; the Midnight Market team creates a free 30-second promo video and food photos for first-time sellers, which it uses as the backbone of the event’s marketing. Meanwhile, an all-night happy hour vibe plus deliberately accessible pricing for attendees — all drinks, food, and entry fees are capped at $5 — creates an inclusive atmosphere. “We see such a diverse group coming out, mingling, and breaking bread together,” Vasquez says.

Myani Lawson

Bergen-Lafayette Montessori School // Founded 2014 // 10 employees

Bergen-Lafayette Montessori School

Myani Lawson is founder and head of a Montessori school.

Myani Lawson always knew she wanted to be a teacher, and dreamed of opening her own school someday, probably when she retired from teaching. That timeline sped up when, in 2013, she began looking into preschools for her 2-year-old daughter. She loved the Montessori education method, with its emphasis on independence and respect for a child’s natural development. But instead of covering her daughter’s tuition at an existing school, she used her resources to open her own school with a more affordable price accessible to a wider population of students.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the Bergen-Lafayette Montessori school is serving 33 families, with nearly half of them taking advantage of some kind of financial aid. But Lawson wants to do more. So this year, she and collaborators drafted a proposal to the Jersey City Public Schools to offer a public Montessori option. There’s still a long way to go, but Lawson and the school community she’s created are committed to seeing a public option available, and spreading what’s working for them to everyone in their town.

Rachel Zurer

Rachel is Conscious Company’s former editor-in-chief. Before joining the CCM team, she worked at Backpacker and Wired magazines.

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