MEET OUR TEAM
Founding Partner Christopher Gergen has over 25 years experience building, scaling, and supporting systems-based solutions in communities globally. He is the co-founder and recent CEO of Forward Cities – a national non-profit launched that helps cities and regions strengthen their equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems. Since launching in 2014, Forward Cities has worked with over 30 cities, grown to a team of 25, and developed a national cross-city learning collaborative. Christopher also helped launch InnovateNC – a similar multi-city learning collaborative in North Carolina and is a founding partner of HQ Community, the largest entrepreneurial co-working community in North Carolina.
Additionally, Christopher has been a fellow and faculty member with Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship initiative, the Innovator in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership, a regular columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer, co-author of the nationally acclaimed book Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives, an alum of Leadership North Carolina (class 24) and a 2013 Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute where he was recently named a Braddock Scholar. Other entrepreneurial endeavors for Christopher include co-founding SMARTHINKING, a venture-backed on-line tutoring company that grew to over 1,000 universities before being acquired by Pearson in 2011, launching the Entrepreneurs Corps that placed 400 AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers into 96 non-profits for a year of capacity building support, and starting Café Nunoa – a bar, restaurant, live music venue in Santiago, Chile that Christopher started when he was 24. Christopher currently serves on the board of the Duke School and is on the Governor’s NC Works Commission in North Carolina. He lives with his wife and two children in Durham, NC.
Founding Partner of Forward Impact’s impact investment fund, Forward Carolinas, Garry Cutright, is the co-founder and principal broker of commercial real estate firm, Calculus Commercial. In addition to his extensive experience in assembling and acquiring off-market real estate assets, Garry specializes in cash flow modeling, cash forecasting and return on investment analysis, having spent several years as a senior leader in corporate finance. He currently serves on Durham’s Planning Commission, appointed by the City Council to propose and make recommendations regarding city and county-wide plans. Garry also serves on Durham’s Built2Last initiative, designed to create inclusive and equitable development of the city. Garry has a BA from University of Cincinnati, an MBA from Xavier University, and currently lives with his wife and three children in Durham, NC.
Jess Porta is a consulting associate at Forward Impact and the Executive Director at Raleigh Founded. She currently leads several economic development efforts across the Carolinas including programs that connect rural communities and traditionally under-represented communities with the same resources that are accessible to scaling businesses. She also works with start-up companies to help solve problems and connect them with unique opportunities. Jess has been an instrumental part in Raleigh Founded’s success during her five years with the organization.
Prior to her work with Raleigh Founded Jess served as a consultant and interim Director of Development for several organizations to include: The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, the United Way, the Triangle Diversity Business Council, and Know My World. Her background is in Human Rights. She also served as the Training and Education Manager for the Salvation Army of Wake County where she worked with survivors of human trafficking and educated law enforcement statewide about how to best identify and serve victims. She received her Masters of International Studies from North Carolina State University where she traveled abroad to work on issues of Transitional Justice in communities who were recovering from mass atrocities. In her spare time she is a mural artist and a children's book author.
Bruce Katz is the Co-Founder (with Jeremy Nowak) of New Localism Associates. The mission of the firm is to help cities design, finance and deliver transformative initiatives that promote inclusive and sustainable growth. Katz regularly advises global, national, state, regional and municipal leaders on public reforms and private innovations that advance the well-being of metropolitan areas and their countries. Katz is also the founding director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University. Katz is the co-author of The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism (Brookings Institution Press, 2018) and The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Brookings Institution Press, 2013). Both books focus on the rise of cities and city networks as the world’s leading problem solvers. Katz was the inaugural Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution from January 2016 to March 2018, where he focused on the challenges and opportunities of global urbanization. Prior to assuming this role, Bruce J. Katz was a vice president at the Brookings Institution and founding Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. Before joining Brookings, Katz served as chief of staff to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and was the senior counsel and then staff director for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs. Katz is a visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and in 2006, he received the prestigious Heinz Award in Public Policy for his contributions to understanding the “function and values of cities and metropolitan areas and profoundly influencing their economic vitality, livability and sustainability.” Katz is a graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School.
Lyneir Richardson is the founder of Chicago TREND, a social enterprise formed in 2016 with a mission to strengthen neighborhoods by catalyzing and accelerating strategic retail and other commercial development. TREND uses sophisticated data and analytic tools to identify strategic retail opportunities and provides advisory services and capital to expedite deals. Lyneir is a Black entrepreneur with a track record of working with Black entrepreneurs and strengthening the economic conditions in underserved areas across the United States. As an entrepreneur, Lyneir developed, built and sold over 300 residential units in Carolina neighborhoods. As former Vice President of Urban Development at General Growth Properties, Lyneir led the effort to redevelop Mondawmin Mall (bringing in a Target Store, full service grocer, restaurant and other new services and amenities) and negotiated and structured the deal that resulted in the first commercial TIF deal in Baltimore. Lyneir has substantial shopping center industry relationships and experience.
Maryanne Speroni is the Key Principal of Linden View, specializing in affordable housing and related programs that address health inequity. Prior to forming Linden View, Ms. Speroni was Fund Manager at Vitus Group. There, she managed a private equity fundraising effort across a spectrum of impact investors. She developed a related program for social impact promoting the health of the residents, and arranged for Vitus to become a leader in the movement to incorporate Active Design into affordable housing. Prior to joining Vitus, Ms. Speroni served in a variety of leadership positions at two of the nation’s leading affordable housing finance providers, The Richman Group and Related Capital Company. There, she held senior executive roles in tax credit equity fundraising, mortgage lending, asset management, underwriting, and equity originations. Ms. Speroni holds a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Mathematics from Brown University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. She is a member of the Responsible Property Investment Council at the Urban Land Institute.
Jason Widen brings an extensive background as an investor, developer, and entrepreneur to his current role as Founding Partner and CEO of Raleigh Founded, an award-winning entrepreneurial co-working space located in Downtown Raleigh. Raleigh Founded boasts 400 member companies and 800 members including key partnerships with NC State, Campbell Law, and Meredith College to name a few. Seeking to develop sales talent for startups and established companies, Jason Founded REVGEN in 2013. REVGEN boasts having hired and trained over 600 employees with a number of notable clients- Citrix, Redhat, Dude Solutions, and Filter Easy. Jason has raised millions of dollars as an entrepreneur and real estate developer including over 103 projects, most recently having raised capital for the purchase and development of expansion space for Raleigh Founded. In addition, Jason was instrumental in the creation of Leadership exCHANGE, an award-winning organization dedicated to training the next generation of leaders and global citizens to change the world. Jason currently sits on a number of noteworthy Boards to include: Innovate Raleigh, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Raleigh Alliance. He lives with his wife and daughter in Raleigh.
Johnathan Holifield most recently served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in 2017. Holifield’s expertise includes economic and educational inclusion, public-private partnerships and community system-building. Prior to joining the White House, Holifield co-founded ScaleUp Partners, a consultancy committed to connecting underrepresented populations and disaffected communities with innovation development leaders and stakeholders, its purpose is to grow inclusive and competitive local economies. Holifield authored The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness: How Demographic Trends and Innovation Can Create Economic Prosperity for All Americans. He previously was founding vice president of inclusive competitiveness at NorTech (Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition), an organization dedicated to enhancing the region’s prosperity through science, technology and innovation. He authored the 2014 Ohio Department of Higher Education’s statewide report, Inclusive Competitiveness: Empowering Underrepresented Ohioans to Compete in the Innovation Economy, and he was a member of the Northeast Ohio Council of Regional Economic Policy Advisors. Holifield earned his Bachelor of Arts from West Virginia University, where he was also elected football team captain. He later played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Education from the University of Cincinnati, and a professional certificate from the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute.
Sheila Herrling is a Fellow at the Beeck Center, where she pursues initiatives in impact investing and measurement, inclusive entrepreneurship and social innovation at scale. Previously, Herrling served as Senior Vice President for Social Innovation at the Case Foundation, where she drove social campaigns in impact investing and inclusive entrepreneurship, deployed tech-for-good platforms across multiple initiatives and built cross-sector alliances for impact at scale. Prior to that, Herrling served as Vice President for Policy and Evaluation at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) where she oversaw country selection, economic analysis, evaluation and a large policy reform program. Previous appointments include Senior Advisor to the Obama administration’s foreign policy transition team, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and a range of senior management positions at the U.S. Department of Treasury and the African Development Bank. Herrling has over 25 years of experience in international development, U.S. foreign policy, innovative finance, and entrepreneurship in a career that has spanned government, nonprofit and philanthropy. Through both her professional and personal philanthropic engagements, she has focused squarely on inclusion and equity. She chairs the Energy for Growth Hub and serves on the National Board of SEED Spot; she serves on the Advisory Boards of Halcyon Incubator, Forward Cities and George Mason’s Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council.
Victor Hwang is founder and CEO of Right to Start, a new campaign fighting for everyone’s right to be an entrepreneur as a national policy priority. Previously, he was Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the world’s leading philanthropy supporting entrepreneurs, where he managed a budget of $40 million. At Kauffman, he led initiatives that impacted over 200,000 entrepreneurs in 200 cities, including efforts in catalyzing capital formation, transforming economic development practices, launching a national policy roadmap, and breaking barriers for underserved entrepreneurs. Hwang was co-founder and CEO of Liquidity, a Silicon Valley venture-backed firm making safe drinking water filtration based on nanotech manufacturing and T2 Venture Creation, a venture firm that built startup companies and designed ecosystems that fostered entrepreneurial innovation in dozens of countries and cities. In addition, Hwang was executive director of the Global Innovation Summit, a conference focused on building innovative ecosystems with delegates from over 50 nations. He is co-author of The Rainforest, which explains how any region can replicate the historical innovation dynamics of Silicon Valley. He also wrote the follow-up book, The Rainforest Blueprint, a practical design guide for innovation ecosystems. Hwang is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School.
Jan Rivkin is the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration, the Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program, and a Professor in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. Rivkin previously worked as a consultant for the Monitor Group.He has published research about strategy, competitiveness and income inequality in the United States.Rivkin received his PhD in business economics from Harvard. Earlier, he studied chemical engineering and public policy at Princeton and obtained an MSc in economics from the London School of Economics on a Marshall Scholarship.
Jeffrey Walker is Chairman of New Profit, a social change investment fund and is Vice Chair in the United Nations Envoy’s Office for Health Finance and Malaria. He also currently serves on the Boards of The University of Virginia, Berklee College of Music, The Miller Center, Grammys Music Education Coalition, JUST Capital, AmpUP, AMP for Health and University of Virginia’s Undergraduate Business School, where he was President for ten years. Previously, Jeff was Executive-in-Residence at Harvard Business School, focusing on social enterprises and collaboration as well as system change and System Entrepreneurship. Jeff co-founded and was Chairman of Npower, an organization that provides shared technology services to nonprofits. Jeff co-authored a book, The Generosity Network, about new approaches to gather resources to address causes each of us are passionate about. For twenty five years Jeff was CEO and Co-Founder of CCMP Capital, the $12 billion successor to JPMorgan Partners, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s global private equity, Vice Chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS from the University of Virginia, is a Certified Management Accountant and a Certified Public Accountant.