About ConnectUP!

ConnectUP! Institute - Powered by Social Impact Now

About ConnectUP!

Our Mission

We curate connections among entrepreneurs, investors, and the business ecosystem to advance equitable access to capital, resources and networks (for underinvested communities) with an emphasis on Black and Brown women and their lived experiences.

Our Vision

We know that when Black/Brown women do well, we all do well. To that end, our vision is for Black/Brown women entrepreneurs to have intergenerational wealth through equitable access and culturally responsive resources, capital, & networks.

Our Values

Our value pillars have been shaped by our experiences, community, and vision for the future. 


...with the work we do, the communities we serve and the relationships we build.


..who people are, where they are and the identities they hold.


...to foster equitable and economically vibrant communities.


...that Communities hold wisdom that works.


...about who we are, where we’re from and who we serve with courage and passion.

Our Team

Marsha Allen

Program Specialist- Capital Readiness

Marsha Allen is an entrepreneur and dedicated community activator whose underwaving commitment to positive change has made her a driving force in her local communities. With a passion for innovation and a keen eye for opportunities, she founded a successful retail incubator startup that has not only created unique opportunities but also actively contributed to local economic growth. Her innovative ventures are driven not only by financial success but also by a deep sense of responsibility to uplift underprivileged communities.

Marsha dedicates her time and energy to various community initiatives, from empowering youth through entrepreneurship programs to advocating for racial, social systemic and economic changes. Her commitment to driving positive change through both entrepreneurship and activism has earned her recognition as a catalyst for transformative change, leaving an indelible mark on the communities she serves.

Joanna Drew Headshot

Joanna Drew

Fundraising Lead

Joanna Drew is an independent fundraising consultant with ten years of experience. Working to increase the fundraising capacity of US-based nonprofits, international NGOs, and community-led projects, she manages all facets of the fundraising process. Her fundraising work includes individual giving, sponsorship and membership management, grant writing, event planning, and database administration. Joanna’s broad experience uniquely positions her to adapt her strategic thinking to a variety of contexts, build strong cross-cultural relationships, and thrive in dynamic, goal-driven professional environments.

Joanna holds a BSc in Business Administration from Boston University and an MA in International Development from the University of Kent Brussels School of International Studies. She is fluent in Spanish, a certified grant writer, and a member of the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits.

Joanna uncompromisingly partners with organizations that align with her values of inclusion and empowerment, striving to uplift the marginalized to ensure their seat at the table.

Natalie Novacek

Program Specialist- Events

Natalie Novacek (she/her) is an events producer with 20 years of experience in theatre and fine arts. She has worked on unique, small-scale events of fewer than 10 guests and large-scale events of 1000 or more. With her background in performing arts, Natalie creates accessible, immersive events focusing on the guest experience. She uses her storytelling know-how to engage guests at a sensory level as they journey through her one-of-a-kind events.

Natalie received her M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Natalie believes love is love, no human is illegal, Black lives matter, and science is real. She acknowledges that she lives, works, and creates on stolen Wahpekute land.

Y. Elaine Rasmussen- Founder and CEO

Y. Elaine Rasmussen

Founder and CEO

Driven by the mission to mainstream impact investing and democratizing access to capital Y. Elaine Rasmussen founded ConnectUP! Institute. Grounded in her work as a mediator, a communications and finance professional, Rasmussen has extensive experience in building transformational relationships in a wide range of sectors: for-profit, philanthropy, government, education and finance. 

Y. Elaine Rasmussen has been recognized for her innovation in driving impact & organizational effectiveness. She is a Cordes, Boston Impact Initiative and RSF Social Finance Integrated Capital Fellow where her Integrated Capital Fund project was named a MetLife Foundation Inclusion Competition semi-finalist. Rasmussen was featured in Fearless Commerce Magazine and received the NAWBO Achieve! Innovation Award for her work on inclusive economic development. Rasmussen was named Finance and Commerce’s Top Women in Finance, AARP/Pollen’s 50 Over 50. Rasmussen’s board service includes Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) and serves on the investment committees of Opus Group, Nexus Community Partners and Swift Foundation. Her overarching goal? To move billions of investment dollars in Black/Brown and rural communities. #MovingBillions #MoneyMoves

Elaine has worked for large and small organizations such as Shearson/Lehman Bros., Native Americans in Philanthropy, Warner Bros!, Dreamworks and the US State Department, and social enterprise ventures. She has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and international business from Woodbury University, as well as a masters degree in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University.

Elaine is an avid traveler. From her hometown of Los Angeles, California to the seas of Bosporus in Turkey and the Native American tribes across Turtle Island (United States). Elaine always seeks the strength of people, place, and culture—always making sure to break bread and foster connections. In her free time, you can find Elaine unwinding by crocheting, or with a glass of wine in hand, as a fire serenades a symphony of crackles at her feet.

Becky R. Webb

Program Specialist

Becky R. Webb is originally from Brooklyn, NY. She followed her passion for education and analytics to Minnesota, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in economics with an emphasis in Management from St. Olaf College.

Currently, Becky is pursuing her master’s degree with an emphasis in Business Analytics at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, diving deeper into her understanding of data-driven decision-making. With a keen eye for storytelling through data and a financial background, Becky excels in enhancing and developing operational structures to be more efficient and effective. Her ability to analyze complex datasets allows her to uncover insights that drive strategic business decisions, improving overall performance and productivity.

Outside of her academic and professional pursuits, Becky finds joy in creative outlets such as sewing and dancing. She also cherishes spending quality time with her beloved fur babies.

Our Board

Leigh Lester

Denise Butler

Felicia DeSmith

Y. Elaine Rasmussen

Jon D. Rasmussen

Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender Equality
8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
10 - Reduced Inequalities
11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Help Us Reach Our $10,000 Give to the Max Day Donation Goal!

Join us for #GivetotheMaxDay this year as we gear up to provide more funding, programming and resources for the local entrepreneurs that bring life to Minnesota with their unique small businesses.