How This Woman's Remarkable Life Helped Her Demystify Business for Underserved Entrepreneurs Alfa Demmellash survived a brutal dictatorship in Ethiopia, was abducted by her father, came to the U.S. without knowing a lick of English and attended Harvard. Now, she wants to help others.

By Linda Lacina

Rising Tide Capital

How Success Happens is a podcast featuring polar explorers, authors, ultra marathoners, artists and more to better understand what connects dreaming and doing. Linda Lacina,'s managing editor, guides these chats so anyone can understand the traits that underpin achievement and what fuels the decisions to push us forward. Listen below or click here to read more shownotes.

Every life is precious. Every life has purpose.

These are lessons Alfa Demmellash learned from her mother who fled her native Ethiopia after the Red Terror, living first in a refugee camp and later in Boston. There, her mother would waitress in the mornings and sew gowns in the evenings -- a small business she'd founded to create extra income so she could one day bring her young daughter to live with her.

Related: Hear How This Woman Coached Herself Through a Near-Death Experience to Become a One-Person Fitness Brand

And they are lessons Demmellash -- surprisingly -- also learned from her father, a man who abducted her as a young girl. Estranged from the family and long divorced from her mother, he subjected her daily to abuse and threats on her life for close to a year. And despite this treatment, she eventually realized she didn't wish him harm. When he finally let her go, she was forced to hitchhike her way to safety at just 9 years of age.

These experiences gave her a deep belief that anything is possible and an appreciation for hardworking underserved communities. That understanding drove her to found Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit in New Jersey that has helped build more than 1,000 active, operative businesses by providing much-needed education, training and support. Says Demmellash, "There is a lot of dreaming and a lot of creativity that is often overlooked."

In this week's podcast of How Success Happens, she'll share more of her incredible story, including how she arrived in the United States without knowing a word of English and found herself attending Harvard five years later.

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She'll also explain how understanding the importance of purpose helped her build a model for new entrepreneurs that focuses on the experiential, rather than jargon and terminology.

"When you have your why, when you have a sense of your purpose, it is the most resilience-inducing thing you can possibly find," says Demmellash. "Entrepreneurs who are clear about their why are just breathing a lot better."

Related: Podcast: When PowerPoints Weren't Working, This Powerful Exec Passed Out Comic Books Instead

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Linda Lacina

Entrepreneur Staff

Linda Lacina is the former managing editor at Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Smart Money, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Family Circle. Email her at Follow her at @lindalacina on Twitter. 

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