2014 - Startup Mentors

Meet Our Mentors 


Nayla Bahri is an award-winning educator, curriculum & program designer, facilitator, coach and advisor. Nayla's approach to learning and development is characterized by her deep respect for a learner’s existing knowledge and experience, and appreciation for our human capacity for change. Her work reflects both a sense of purpose and a sense of humor. Nayla has served as a coach, advisor and mentor to generations of MBA students, executives and staff, guiding them through the development of strategic insights, the enhancement of emotional and social intelligence, and helping them build the capabilities necessary for their personal and professional growth. As a passionate community-builder, she has worked with students, participants and professional teams to transform organizations, deepen engagement and implement cultural change and innovation. Nayla earned her AB in English Literature and French Studies from Smith College, a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a doctoral candidate in Adult Learning and Leadership at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the development of leadership and personal resilience in individuals and teams. She has extensive training in group dynamics, conflict resolution, qualitative research methods, autobiography and storytelling in leadership, appreciative inquiry, action learning, and counseling and coaching.

Elaine Barsoom is the Executive Vice President at Eleven James. Most recently, Elaine was at American Express where she was responsible for launching and growing a joint venture at American Express, vente-privee. Vente-Privee was the original pioneers of the online flash sale from France where they grew to a $1BN company with over 16mm members, In less than 2 year, Elaine helped grow the company to over $50mm and approximately 1mm members in the US. Elaine also spearheaded the partnership with Inspirato and American Express and launched the first brand licensing agreement for American Express.Prior to her tenure at American Express, Elaine led sales and marketing at Exclusive Resorts in NYC, and Europe, the first luxury destination club owned by Steve Case.. Elaine holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s Degree in International Relations from SIPA, Columbia University and a B.A. from Barnard College. Elaine is also a philanthropist and co-founder of a non-profit organization, Global Fund for Widows - http://www.globalfundforwidows.org-  an organization that provides micro-finance and training to widows in Egypt, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.



Binta Niambi Brown is a corporate/tech lawyer, startup advisor, human rights advocate, nascent angel investor, and bass player. After working for a technology start-up, Binta worked on technology and internet IPOs and transactions at Cravath. She advised (and advises) senior management and corporate boards of media, technology, telecom and entertainment companies, and was a partner in Kirkland & Ellis, before leaving to undertake innovation research at Harvard. Binta has advised Hillary Clinton, among others, on a variety of policy matters. Binta has been recognized as one of the Root's 100 Most Influential African-Americans, Fortune Magazine's 40 under 40 business leaders, and by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. She sits on a handful of advisory and philanthropic boards (including Barnard College), and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.



Shala Burroughs is the Executive Director of the Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator and a 2013 Startup Leadership Program Fellow. Shala first became interested in startups and tech while working at Lerer Ventures and Quartz, Atlantic Media’s newest business brand.  Prior to her foray into tech, Shala was a Senior Intelligence Officer with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where she coordinated the activities of 76 intelligence officers across the US.  Working for the government was a natural extension of her earlier work as a Senior Consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton where she supported clients within Homeland Security while simultaneously pitching, building, and growing a Social Media Mentoring Program to pair social media experts with Senior Vice Presidents within the company. This idea brought her to the Aspen Ideas Festival to support Booz Allen’s emergence into new media platforms and her work was eventually published in one of the leading security industry professional publications.  Shala holds a BA in Government from Dartmouth College where she was a 2007 Rockefeller Center Leadership Fellow and continues to serve her alma mater as a member of Dartmouth’s Young Alumni Advisory Board.



Jovanka Ciares is a transformational coach, specializing in detox and digestive health, author and producer. Through her private coaching practice, YouTube Show (The Weekly Jolt), live lectures and online detox programs Jovanka brings her proven formula for healthy living to audiences in both English and Spanish. Jovanka is the author of three books, and the creator of a transformational online program:The Clean Foods Diet Method. She is trained in plant-based nutrition with a degree from Cornell. She’s been called a “miracle worker,” a “total spitfire” and “the woman to call for a wellness smackdown.”




Jennifer Eident is a serial entrepreneur whose most recent venture, Vixely, was the leading iPad publication in Women’s Health. Prior to Vixely, she led Marketing for the restructuring post buyout for the TPG Portfolio company, XOJET, a private jet company. Jen received her MBA from Stanford Business School where she created a joint degree program as well as a start-up incubator between the Design (d.school) and MBA programs. She serves on the Board or as a Marketing Advisor to several start-ups, accelerators and nonprofits including SSE Labs (Stanford’s Start-up Incubator), Women in Tech, Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs, Knowledgebeat (camp for children most at risk for HIV in Zambia) and Baby Bundle (parenting app). She is an expert in start-up strategy and marketing and has spoken and been published on these topics in HuffingtonPost, Forbes, Mashable, and at SXSW, Stanford and others. She is mostly a self-taught engineer and designer (building websites since her early teens) and has built and designed several websites and apps.

Diana Franco brings with her more than twelve years of experience in a diverse range of corporate and technology driven environments, being integrally involved in finance, business development, operations and marketing.

She has been a founding-member of multiple tech ventures, establishing and leading global business units with emphasis on mobile, Internet presence, and social media shopping. Diana’s experience and expertise in the synergies between technology and business fuel her ability to find technological solutions for tomorrow’s problems, today. Diana currently resides in New York City and is a partner at Grenout, connecting international technology companies with local resources.


Hillary Garris is Chief Financial Officer of Cyrus Innovation LLC, a consulting firm that builds web and mobile applications and products and helps enterprises improve development practices. Hillary began her career researching and investing in technology and energy companies at ING, Oaktree Capital, and Oppenheimer & Co. She was later part of the Global Finance Team at Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Global Fortune 500 consumer products company. Hillary serves on the advisory board of NMRKT, a TechStars portfolio company, and has instructed various courses at General Assembly. Hillary has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BS from Lehigh University.



Alejandra Mejía is the director for Public & Private Sector Support for Latin America at Teach for All, a global network of independent social enterprises that promote educational excellence and equity. She works directly with social entrepreneurs in planning and executing their development strategy to guarantee their financial health, in addition to helping them build key partnerships with public sector stakeholders. Previously, she was the account director for Latin America at the Financial Times. From 2008 to 2011, she worked for the Americas Society/Council of the Americas as director of public policy programs. Alejandra holds a master’s in global affairs from New York University and a bachelor’s in anthropology from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá.




Tanya Menendez is one of the Co-Founders of Maker's Row. Maker’s Row is a Brooklyn-based online marketplace for American manufacturers with network of over 4,000 manufacturers and 38,000 designers and brands looking to create products in the USA. Before Maker's Row, Tanya managed operations within Google, Goldman Sachs and a leather goods line, The Brooklyn Bakery.






Hitha Palepu is a travel expert and a digital marketing strategist. She is the founder of acclaimed lifestyle website Hitha On The Go, which empowers readers to pack faster and live better. Since its launch in 2009, Hitha On The Go has amassed an international readership of over 50,000. Hitha and her website have been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Bloomberg Businessweek, Goop, and Refinery29. In 2014, she filmed a packing video series with both Meredith and About.com. Hitha also serves as the vice president for business development at SciDose, a research-focused pharmaceutical company. Prior to joining SciDose, she spent 3 years at Cisco System in account management. Hitha graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in biochemistry and history. She lives in New York City with her husband.



Avani Patel holds a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Avani practiced Corporate and Securities law and while practicing law, she founded a luxury fashion company called Nasaani. Nasaani evolved into a major buzz on the Chicago fashion scene and was featured in newspapers, magazines and TV shows. She used her learnings from Nasaani to launch TrendSeeder. TrendSeeder is an emerging designer platform that grants customers exclusive access to hand picked, up and coming designers.





Amanda Raposo graduated in May 2011 from NYU with a degree in Social Work and Social Entrepreneurship. She is the founder of Powerhouse NYC, a non-profit organization that helps moms achieve economic empowerment. This mission is sustained by her business, Project Playdate, which serves families through fun drop off playdates for kids. Amanda has been published in The New Yorker for her expertise in child care and received the 2013 Red Tricycle Totally Awesome Award on behalf of Project Playdate for “Best drop off child care service in New York.” Amanda is passionate about creating sustainable social impacts and serving families across the spectrum of need.






Eram Siddiqui is the Founder and CEO of Hudson+Bleecker, a travel and lifestyle accessories brand. In 2011, After a failed attempt to locate a shoe bag that would protect her beloved footwear collection during her travels and struggling to find luxe travel accessories that were not only practical but also alluring, Eram set out to create a collection of durable, high-quality travel accessories that are both functional and beautiful. Hudson+Bleecker collections are available at Anthropologie, Birchbox, Free People, Shopbop, Stanley Korshak and over 150+ specialty retailers worldwide. Hudson+Bleecker has been featured in The Zoe Report, Real Simple, Redbook, The Today Show, Refinery29, The Knot, Elle Magazine, People Magazine and more. Eram was previously Manager of Government and Industry Relations for the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA)/California Independent Bankers. Her experience also includes positions at the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development (ANHD) and as a policy research analyst for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Eram is a graduate in International Studies and Political Science from the University of California at Irvine.


Tammy Tibbetts founded She's the First, an organization that funds scholarships for girls in low-income countries so that they can be the first in their famil

ies to graduate from high school. She’s the First directly impacts students in the U.S., too, providing critical leadership training, mentorship, and global awareness activities to members of more than 100 campus chapters. Tammy originally launched She’s the First as a YouTube video campaign when she was a web editor at Hearst Magazines. As the She’s the First campaign took off and became a full-fledged non-profit organization, Tammy ultimately transferred her skills from the media world into social entrepreneurship. Under her leadership, She’s the First has had exponential growth in reach and revenue (2013 revenue was over half a million, which was double the previous year). In 2013, Tammy received the People’s Voice Award from Diane von Furstenberg. She has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, TIME magazine’s “30 under 30” World-Changers, one of Forbes’ “30 under 30” in Education, and will be recognized as one of “20 Women Changing the World” in the September 2014 issue of Marie Claire. Tammy is reachable via tammy@shesthefirst.org and @tammytibbetts on Twitter.



As featured on Marie TV, Jo-Ná A. Williams, Esq. founded J.A. Williams Law P.C. – The Artist Empowerment Firm in 2011 to provide artists, entertainers and this generation’s thought leaders with ways to successfully navigate their careers and provide assistance with business, entertainment and intellectual property matters. She is dedicated to issues regarding the rights of artists and content creators because she believes they are a population highly vulnerable to exploitation without proper knowledge. She founded Artist Empowerment Group in 2013 to advise artists on business, branding and marketing. Some of her clients have written best-selling books, created award-winning blogs, been nominated for Grammys, listed in the Billboard Top 100, Amazon and ITunes Top Album Charts and received local and International acclaim. She has served as one of the editors of the American Bar Association’s Annual Review of Intellectual Property Law Developments, 1st edition. She conducted workshops for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in Massachusetts, Brooklyn Arts Council, MoCada Museum, Brooklyn Museum and the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College. She is licensed to practice law in New York.