Meet the Staff

We love what we do, and who we do it with.

KristiN Brauth, Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships


Kristin has ten years of work experience in Financial Services. Prior to joining Start Small Think Big, Kristin worked at Citigroup for seven years. Kristin worked in Corporate Banking and also Risk Management covering corporate clients in the Consumer and Healthcare sectors. After that, Kristin worked in Citi’s CAO office of Risk Management preparing risk materials for the Board of Directors and working on governance initiatives. Kristin has also worked at the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation as an underwriter of agricultural real estate loans. Kristin has volunteered with Accion’s Microconsulting Program and has been a financial literacy volunteer with High Water Women. Kristin obtained a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell University and an MBA from NYU Stern.

Ian Brown, Technology Director

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Ian joins Start Small with broad experience as a technologist in both the non-profit and higher education sectors. At Columbia University's Department of Biomedical Engineering, Ian provided IT support for the educational and research operations of the department. Prior to that, he worked for a non-profit developing digital educational materials for American history teachers and students. Ian graduated with a B.S. in Information Sciences and Technology from The Pennsylvania State University.

Christine Coakley, Impact Assessment Director


After graduating with a BA magna cum laude in Economics from Trinity College, Dublin, Christine spent two years working throughout Latin America in both the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors, where she coordinated extensive market and academic research in the areas of community and youth development, and conservation. Prior to joining Start Small, Christine was engaged in a large quantitative research project gathering and analyzing data from Thompson-Reuters and Bloomberg’s Environmental, Social, and Governance databases, to operationalize, measure, and evaluate the social and environmental performance impact of the social initiatives of for-profit firms in the food industry. Christine has an MSc. summa cum laude in Social Entrepreneurship from Trinity College, Dublin.

Jennifer DaSilva, Founder & Executive Director

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Jennifer is an attorney whose professional background has been in community development. Jennifer began her career in the Bronx in the late 1990s as the Director of the East Side House Settlement Youth Leadership Program, working closely with South Bronx families and community groups, and building partnerships between East Side House and private funders, nonprofit and government institutions, and private businesses. After graduating from law school in 2001, Jennifer clerked on the District of Columbia District Court for the Honorable Gladys Kessler, and worked as a Litigation Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. Jennifer then worked for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she helped to coordinate their 2008 west coast Election Protection effort by opening three national hotline call centers in California, building mobile legal field programs in Nevada and Washington, and recruiting and training 1500+ legal volunteers. Prior to founding Start Small Think Big in 2010, Jennifer worked at Angkor Microfinance Kampuchea, a licensed Cambodian Microfinance Institution in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she helped to design a new microinsurance product for the Cambodian market. She is the chair of the San Francisco Economic Development Alliance , a collaborative of 18 non-profit organizations in San Francisco that provide support services to small businesses.Jennifer holds a BA in Political Science from Yale University, and a JD from Cornell Law School.

Mabell Fernandez, Market Access Program Director


Ms. Fernandez has spent the past nine years working in non- and for-profit sectors, both domestically and internationally. Prior to joining Start Small, she worked at the World Economic Forum where she established, managed, and developed Strategic Partnerships with C-suite and senior executives across a portfolio of ten leading Fortune 100 companies. Before this, she spent four years working at a nonprofit organization in Boston that provides financial education and coaching to low-income families, empowering them to build savings and financial capabilities as a pathway out of poverty. She has also worked with women- and minority-owned small and medium sized businesses in Spain focusing primarily on business plan evaluations, cash projections, and financial planning. Ms. Fernandez obtained her B.A. in Economics and in International Relations with a focus on Economic Development from Boston University.

Chris Gordon, Legal Program Manager, Bay Area

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Chris joined Start Small Think Big after earning a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. As the son of two small business owners himself, Chris was excited to empower small businesses and entrepreneurs with whom we work. While in law school, he worked as a law clerk for several San Francisco-based organizations in addition to acting as a student attorney for the University of Michigan Pediatric Advocacy Clinic. Before attending law school, Chris volunteered as a teacher in Manila, Philippines, and worked as an educational consultant in Beijing, China. He is from San Francisco and earned his B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ebony Johnson, Legal Program Manager, New York City


Ebony’s undergraduate experience laid the foundation for her career in the non-profit sector. While a student at Georgetown University, she helped to coordinate a mentoring program for at-potential youth. After graduating with a B.A. in English, she worked for five years as a paralegal at a non-profit law firm, The Children’s Law Center, where she assisted in the direct advocacy of children in family court litigation. Ebony obtained her Master’s Degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco and is a member of Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society.

Ian McDermott, Financial Program Manager, New York City

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Ian has dedicated his career to working towards economic empowerment for disadvantaged communities, spending several years in nonprofit Community Based Organizations predominantly providing Workforce Development and Financial Literacy programming. Ian has also organized small businesses for hiring and personnel needs, sales and customer acquisition opportunities, and worked on developing a micro-lending intermediary to provide small businesses with capital. Ian continues to utilize his professional expertise in assisting social enterprises through volunteer work as a technical assistance provider and mentor to entrepreneurs. Ian completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at the State University of New York, ultimately culminating in a MA in Community and Economic Development.

Mauna Minagar, Bay Area Program Manager

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Mauna has several years of experience working in the non-profit and higher education sectors. Prior to joining Start Small, she worked in Program Coordination and Operations at the University of California, San Francisco. Mauna has also worked at the Behavioral Health Education & Training Academy, an organization in San Diego that provides training to Health and Human Services staff. Previous to that, she completed an internship at the International Rescue Committee’s Fresh Fund program, helping refugee populations in San Diego gain access to local, fresh produce. She also interned at the Muscular Dystrophy Association, boosting fundraising and outreach. Mauna graduated with her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Joseph Powers, Programs and Operations Associate, New York City

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Along with personal experience as an entrepreneur, Joseph Powers comes to SSTB from a background in credit-finance, legal practice management, and consulting. Before his arrival, Joseph served at Venable LLP on its practice management team, which prepared financial analysis and managed long-term strategy for the firm. He has also previously held positions at several hedge funds, where he specialized in underwriting and asset management of creative fixed-income investments. In his role at Start Small, Joseph looks forward to offering his expertise to the entrepreneurs in our program, as well as to learning what barriers exist to entrepreneurship and their possible solutions. Along with his position with us, he is Founder and Managing Partner of a pop-up bookstore, The Alexandria Book Cart. Joseph graduated from Columbia in 2016 with a degree in Applied Mathematics.

Melissa Shurkin, Market Access Project Manager, New York City

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Melissa has supported the entrepreneurial ambitions of small business owners since 2011. She first experienced the transformative power of entrepreneurship when working with men and women involved in the criminal justice system as they rebuilt their lives through the creation of small businesses. Melissa also worked at a technology start-up whose software and training guide small businesses at all stages of development toward their growth goals. Prior to discovering her passion for entrepreneurship, Melissa worked in the the nonprofit and public sectors in the areas of K-12 education, child welfare, health, and youth development. Melissa has a B.A. in Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a Masters degree in Management from The Heller Graduate School for Social Policy and Management.

Ryan Sommerville, Financial Program Director

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Ryan is an entrepreneur and financial professional that has built and scaled ventures in the financial services, apparel, technology, and food & beverage spaces. Over the past three years, he served as the Co-Founder & CEO of Lewis & Harris and Business Development Officer with Advisors Ahead. He has significant experience training and coaching entrepreneurs on business management, interpersonal, and technical skills. At Start Small Think Big, he is focused on applying this experience to empower small business owners in low-income communities. Ryan holds a B.S.B.A in Business Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from Appalachian State University.

Alex Stepick, Legal Program Director


Alex Stepick, Esq. joined Start Small Think Big from private practice in April of 2018. While in private practice Alex advised start-ups and emerging businesses. In addition, Alex has served as counsel in multiple class, complex and collective actions in state and Federal courts around the country. He was a graduate fellow with the U.S. Congress’ Committee on the Judiciary, and a clerk with the United States Department of Justice. While in law school, he was an award winning member of Washington University Law’s international moot court program. He completed a post-graduate fellowship working as a Staff Attorney at the Florida International University’s Immigration & Human Rights Clinic in Miami, FL, and had previously worked with Progressive Law Group LLC-Chicago a boutique litigation firm focusing on progressive cases. (J.D., Washington University School of Law in Saint Louis, 2010; B.A., The University of Chicago, 2006). Alex is licensed to practice law in New York.

Ranjit Unnithan, Financial Program Director


Ranjit joined Start Small after over ten years of experience on Wall Street. He was an equity analyst at JPMorgan for seven years covering the US and European auto industry. He also spent three years as a senior analyst at a hedge fund, Three Bridges Capital, investing in global industries. Before joining Start Small, Ranjit provided financial consulting services to small businesses. Ranjit has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and an MSc from IIT, Chennai, India.