The Team

The Foundation l Kendall l District Hall l Roxbury Innovation l l Volunteers  l Board of Directors


Venture Café Foundation


Kevin Wiant – Kevin is Executive Director of Venture Café Foundation Boston.  Previously, Kevin has been on the management teams of several early-stage companies in the mobile, telecommunications, web, software and semiconductor industries, including Comverse, Boston Technology, AirWide, Technology Concepts, Telelogic, Wolfdata and Mostek.  His executive roles have been in business development, sales, marketing, product management and corporate development.  Kevin has extensive international expertise, having taken over 170 trips to over 30 countries.  He also serves on the Boards of the MIT Enterprise Forum and Mobile Monday Boston.


Venture Café Kendall


Chandra BriggmanChandra Briggman – Chandra is Director of Venture Café Cambridge. To this role, she brings 18 years of product and marketing experience that spans both start-ups and large enterprises – in multiple start-up ecosystems. Chandra teaches product management at General Assembly and coaches entrepreneurs for WINLab (Babson). She founded digital magazine PATRONNÈ as an online platform for professional women. As the former director of digital for USPS, she built the first digital division and innovation lab for the organization. Chandra holds a master’s from both MIT and Johns Hopkins, and a bachelor’s from Columbia International. She is a child advocate and certified foster care provider. She is also a proponent of human-centered and conscious innovation and is on a mission to activate the “inventor” in everyone.


Andrew_Singleton_150pxAndrew Singleton – Andrew is Program Manager for Venture Café Kendall. He is the Events Coordinator for Venture Café Thursdays and is in a supporting role for many of the other programs and platforms that the Foundation runs. In the past, Andrew worked on diverse technology projects from tissue engineering to wind power.  Andrew holds a Bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Shawn Hakimi is the Marketing & Operations Coordinator at Venture Café Kendall. He promotes the Cafe’s weekly programming and oversees Thursday night event operations. In addition to his passions for fostering community and innovation, Shawn has completed two cross-country road trips, enjoys camping and exploring new places by bike. Shawn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.



 Alaska Lam is the Events Coordinator at Venture Café Kendall. In this role, she coordinates the Foundation’s weekly gathering, Cafe Nights and other special events for Venture Cafe.  Alaska has experience in a variety of positions including education, hospitality, and marketing.  Outside of Venture Cafe she enjoys cooking, dancing, practicing improv comedy & developing productivity hacks.  Alaska holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics & Entrepreneurship from the University of Michigan.


District Hall

Daniel Vidana – Daniel is Director of Venture Café District Hall Program. He brings over 25 years of experience merging leadership, creativity and business insight with solid non-profit, start-up and corporate experience.  Daniel has held senior executive operations and supply chain roles for market leaders such as Apple Inc., Universal Electronics, VeriFone and e-commerce marketplaces Shari’s Berries, ProFlowers, RedEnvelope and Personal Creations during periods of high growth. Most recently, Daniel served as Vice President at Cradles to Crayons in Boston.  In addition, in 2010 Daniel founded and scaled the November Nights Elite College Soccer Showcase a youth soccer initiative focused on connecting scholar-athletes with college scouts. Daniel holds a B.A. in Spanish from Santa Clara University, with a concentration in International Business and Latin American Studies.  Daniel brings a true passion for engaging diverse entrepreneurial communities with mutual interests in technology, youth sports and social innovation.


Sarah desimas headshotSarah deSimas – Sarah is the Program Manager at District Hall. She’s passionate about social entrepreneurship and exploring new perspectives through community engagement and travel. In her spare time, you can find her photographing Boston and investigating the beautiful green spaces downtown. Sarah holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Graphic Design from Northeastern University.



  Tiffani Yolanda – Tiffani is a Program Manager at District Hall.  She ia born and raised Bostonian passionate about supporting entrepreneurs and creatives in her hometown. As Program Manager, she builds programming that strengthens Boston’s innovation community and encourages everyone to channel their inner innovator. Tiffani holds a B.S. in Business Management from UMass and has worked abroad for three years in Spain and South Korea. She enjoys balancing her business practicality with her natural creative exuberance, watching BBC documentaries and exploring the cultural diversity of her hometown.


helen-petty-headshot-croppedHelen Petty – Helen is the Events Coordinator at District Hall. She’s passionate about connecting the diverse sectors within the innovation community to inspire greater impact. Previously Helen has worked for a variety of sustainability-minded nonprofits, from renewable energy to small business empowerment. Outside of District Hall she can be found practicing yoga, enjoying the outdoors, and traveling (when time permits). Helen holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Analysis & Policy and International Relations from Boston University.


Roxbury Innovation Center

 Lanita McCormick – Lanita is the Director for our Roxbury Innovation Center.  Lanita is a proud Roxbury native who has had the opportunity to expand upon her beginnings. Her background spans from the private sector to the not-for-profit arena. In Lanita’s corporate experience her work has been in marketing and sales for companies such as ABC Television and PepsiCo. Her not-for-profit work has been around program design, implementation and community engagement . With a true passion for people, she believes that by giving individuals the tools they need you are laying the ground work for that individual to be able to forge forward. Lanita has a love of all things cooking, traveling and a burgeoning interest in designing spaces.


Phernegize ‘Gia’ Manigat – was born in Haiti, later came to Boston at 9 years old and has always had a passion for creating and helping others create. As the STEM Programs Manager, she builds experiences for Boston and particularly the community of Roxbury where she encourages all folks of all ages to become innovators in their own way. Having obtained a Bachelors in Industrial Design and Sculpture from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she comes from a background of an artist, a designer, and an overall maker. Besides 3D printing or laser cutting, you can find Gia painting, buying tickets to concerts, constantly traveling or enjoying diversity events in her community.


Herb Lozano – Events Coordinator


Melissa YeeMelissa Yee – Melissa is the Editor and Program Manager of She is passionate about bringing communities together where connections and ideas can be made. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, traveling, running, and exploring what the city has to offer. She also does videography and has worked with the tech, startup, and nonprofit communities.




Ruth Saunders – Ruth is Head of Development of Venture Café Foundation Boston. Previously, Ruth was VP of Engagement at Mitchell College, and she has broad experience in fundraising with multiple nonprofits. Ruth has also held management roles at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Outside the Venture Café she chairs the Board of the James Merrill House and is a portrait artist. Ruth holds an MBA from INSEAD and a master’s from the University of Cambridge.





Venture Café extends a big thank you to the volunteers who have committed time and talent to help fulfill the mission of the foundation.

Shahin Ali Skye Flanigan Stephanie Lustgarten
Carly Baxter Giuseppe Frustaci Dariush Nejad
Blonde Beauchamp Remi Gai Suzie Rawden
Michael Burtov  Byron Galbraith Pardees Safizadeh
Julian Chalek Marcia Goldfinger Rakshit Sharma
Jamieson Chalmvers Kate Gormley Jeff Thomas
Heather Charles Audrey Guazzone Unee Washington
Kosta Chernikov Neal Gupta Jug Vajarodaya
Jared Cosulich William Kwak Esya Volchek
Grace Daher Elizabeth Lamoreaux Ivy Wang
Mick Darling Gary Lavine Lara Weintraub
Xavier Dubois Alyssa Li Yanina Wolfe
Sierra Flanigan Jesse Lundburg


Board of Directors


Mitch 6Mitch Tyson (Chairman) – Mitch is an experienced high tech executive and entrepreneur, serves on a number of corporate, non-profit, and governmental boards, advises start-ups and investors, and is deeply involved in the clean energy ecosystem. He is Chair and Co-Founder of the New England Clean Energy Council and is an Adjunct Professor at Brandeis International Business School, where he teaches the course on corporate sustainability.  Mitch is a member of the angel investing Clean Energy Venture Group and serves on the corporate boards of Photronics (PLAB), Big Belly Solar, and 7AC.  Mitch is also on the boards of Environment Northeast (ENE – clean energy research and advocacy), the New England Water Innovation Network, Greentown Labs, and the Venture Café Foundation.  He mentors start-ups through the Cleantech Open and MIT Clean Energy Prize competitions.  Mitch is also a board member of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and is Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative.

damon-cox-headshotDamon Cox – Damon oversees the Foundation’s portfolio of workforce and economic development investments.  Damon has an extensive background in enhancing opportunities for entrepreneurs as the Director and Program Designer for the Boston Small Business Contest, a competition designed to create and support business development opportunities for residents in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods. Previous to that, he was Director for Capital and Evaluation for Boston Rising. In that role, Damon devised and managed Boston Rising’s entrepreneurship development initiative, which provided capital and technical assistance to a network of burgeoning business owners in Boston neighborhoods.

melissa-james-headshotMelissa James is President and CEO of The Tech Connection, the premier marketplace for purpose driven, diverse technical talent. Her mission is to help people reach their highest potential by accelerating their individual pathway to success.  She has a strong track record of building high performing teams for elite companies such as GoogleTeradata, and local Boston businesses such as RA Capital and Sample6. Melissa is the founder of the Black Tech Boston Meetup. She previously served on the board for Youth Institute of Science and Technology and the Young Black Women’s Society. Melissa has been recognized as a “Woman on The Move” by Boston Business Journal. She recently received the U.S. Presidential Service Award and the 2015 Pursuer award from the African Youth Excellence organization for her relentless commitment to the community. Melissa was born and raised in Boston, MA and  graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

teresa-lynch-headshotTeresa Lynch – Teresa M. Lynch is a Principal at Mass Economics, a research and consulting firm that works with the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to promote inclusive economic growth in American cities. The firm has offices in Cambridge and Oakland and is nationally known for its work on inclusive economic growth, including broad-based cluster strategies, urban land issues, and the creation of models that link economic development and land strategies (e.g., employment districts, industrial corridors, and innovation districts). Prior to Mass Economics, Teresa was a Senior Vice President at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) in Boston, where she led the organization’s research activities and a dozen consulting engagements with U.S. cities, including Detroit Future City. She was part of the MIT research team that produced How We Compete: What Companies around the World Are Doing to Make it in Today’s Global Economy. She holds undergraduate degrees in Economics and Public Policy from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s in Regional Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Teresa is on the governing board of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Innovation Institute and is a founding board member of the Venture Café Foundation.

vinit-headshotVinit Nijhawan – Vinit Nijhawan was Managing Director, Office of Technology Development at Boston University. Vinit teaches MBA courses on Entrepreneurship at BU Questrom School of Business; over 300 students have taken his courses. Vinit has over 30 years experience building five startups: as CEO of three, five were acquired. Vinit was Venture Partner at Key Venture Partners and over two years sourced over 200 deals and made one investment that was acquired for $430M. Vinit is an advisor and board member to several technology startups and was a Mass High Tech All-Star in 2005. Vinit has participated in over 240 panel discussions and paper presentations and was a Board Member of Mass Ventures, an early stage, quasi-public Massachusetts venture capital firm, a co-founder of EdTech Accelerator/Incubator LearnLaunch, President of Massachusetts Association of Technology Transfer Offices, and was on the Advisory Board of Walker Innovation (OTC QB: PPRO). Vinit is also on the board of the National Academy of Inventors. Vinit earned a B.A.Sc in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

susan-windham-bannister-headshotDr. Susan Windham-Bannister – Susan is a nationally and internationally recognized innovation expert. She was recognized by the Boston Globe as one of the “10 Most Influential Women in Biotech” in 2013 and by Boston Magazine as one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Boston” in 2011.  Dr. Windham-Bannister currently serves as Managing Partner of Biomedical Innovation Advisors LLC, which she founded with Dr. Harvey Lodish, co-founder of Genzyme, and member of the Whitehead Institute, MIT. She also serves as the President and CEO of Biomedical Growth Strategies, LLC. Both of these advisory firms leverage Dr. Windham-Bannister’s experience as the immediate past President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), a state-funded investment organization charged with administering a $1-billion Life Sciences fund. As CEO, Dr. Windham-Bannister was responsible for the Center’s investment strategy, brand management, organizational development and return on public investment. Before assuming her role at the MLSC, Dr. Windham-Bannister was co-founder and Managing Partner of Abt Bio-Pharma Solutions (ABS), a boutique consulting firm serving life sciences companies. Dr. Windham-Bannister is a Trustee of the Boston Museum of Science and serves on the Board of Directors of Tufts Health Plan, Cambridge Bancorp, MOD Therapeutics, the Association of Women in Science, the Venture Café Foundation, and is on the Life Sciences Advisory Council of Springboard Enterprises, an expert network of innovators, investors and influencers who are dedicated to building high-growth technology-oriented companies led by women.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKevin Wiant – Kevin is Executive Director of Venture Café Foundation.  Previously, Kevin has been on the management teams of several early stage companies in the mobile, telecommunications, web, software and semiconductor industries, including Comverse, Boston Technology, AirWide, Technology Concepts, Telelogic, Wolfdata and Mostek.  His executive roles have been in business development, sales, marketing, product management and corporate development.  Kevin has extensive international expertise, having taken over 170 trips to over 30 countries.  He also serves on the Boards of the MIT Enterprise Forum and Mobile Monday Boston.  Kevin spends much of his time advising early stage companies.  He is also an avid biker, sailor, skier, runner, swimmer & photographer.

Executive Director Alumni

Carlos Martinez-Vela 
Chris Myles
Carrie Stalder