Board of Directors

Andrew Annacone, ChairAndy Annacone headshot

Andy has spent his career helping organizations innovate and grow and has been involved with EPIC Academy since 2012.  Andy is currently a Managing Partner at TechNexus, a Venture Capital and Strategic Advisory firm that helps corporations drive strategic growth and transformation. Prior to TechNexus, Andy led Corporate Venture Capital and new business innovation at Outerwall, Inc.   He was a Principal with growth advisor Galt & Company, and has held senior leadership roles at Sears and Gap.  Early in his career, he founded Arthur Andersen’s Shareholder Value consulting practice.  Andrew is active in the venture community, serving as Board member and mentor to several early-stage companies and lecturing on venturing at various universities.  Andrew earned an MBA from the University of Illinois.


Eyal AltmanEyal Altman headshot

Eyal Altman is Vice President, Chief Digital Officer & CIO at Littelfuse, Inc. He is responsible for leading the company’s Digital Transformation initiatives and managing the Corporate & Digital Marketing and global IT organizations. 

Prior to this role Eyal held executive leadership positions at Littelfuse as a General Manager of a global business unit, and leading Corporate M&A and Strategy. He held Corporate Strategy, M&A, and Finance leadership positions at other organizations prior to joining Littelfuse.

Eyal holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.



Brendan DowningBrendan Downing headshot

Brendan Downing is the CEO and founder of Janus Health, a healthcare provider technology company that creates efficiency in the revenue cycle to reduce the cost to collect and helps generate more cash. 

Prior to founding Janus, Brendan served as the President of XSELL Technologies, a growth stage Artificial Intelligence technology company in Chicago’s West Loop. XSELL works with large Fortune 500 companies to help acquire, engage and retain customers. 

Prior to XSELL, Brendan founded and served as CEO of Falcon Consulting Group, a 150-person healthcare consulting firm focused on aiding large health systems improve clinical and financial outcomes through the enablement of technology. Falcon was sold to Avaap, a mid-sized consulting firm, in the Fall of 2016. Brendan started his career at Epic Systems, the largest Electronic Health Record software company in the United States. 

Outside of work, Brendan is a board member of the EPIC Academy, a board member of the Windy City Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, and actively involved in several non-profits focused on healthcare and education. 

Brendan received his bachelor’s degree in finance at the University of Maryland – College Park, and master’s in business administration at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. During the MBA program at Booth, Brendan was recognized as the Best and Brightest by the school. 


Leigha HaynesLeigha Haynes headshot

Leigha Haynes is a Vice President at Vista Credit Partners. Prior to joining Vista, Ms. Haynes served as a Vice President at Madison Capital Funding LLC, where she focused on raising, structuring, and managing investment vehicles on behalf of third-party investors. During her time with Madison, Ms. Haynes also worked as a Corporate Vice President in Madison’s Compliance department and as a Senior Accountant, where she focused on developing, implementing, and testing compliance processes, and accounting research and financial reporting. Before her time with Madison, Ms. Haynes worked at KPMG LLP as a Senior Audit Associate, where she focused on financial services. Ms. Haynes earned a B.S. in Accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A.S. in Accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.B.A. from J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.


Mercedes HillMercedes Hill headshot

Mercedes M. Hill is Associate General Counsel at Beam Suntory Inc. where has broad general corporate, transactional and litigation responsibilities on a global basis.  Prior to joining Beam Suntory Inc., Ms. Hill spent over 12 years in private practice at Jenner & Block, LLP.  In addition to her legal accomplishments, Ms. Hill is also a 2016 Fellow in the Leadership Greater Chicago (LGC) program and a member of the board of directors of Epic Academy. Ms. Hill, a graduate of The Ohio State University, received her law degree from Harvard Law School.




Maria KimMaria Kim headshot

After 13 years in insurance, Maria Kim joined Cara – a Chicago-based social enterprise reconnecting people experiencing poverty with hope, jobs, and opportunity. Cara has helped people secure over 10,000 jobs, with permanent placements at retention rates over 20 points higher than national norms, and with 80% of employed participants transitioning into permanent housing in which their families can thrive. Maria serves on the boards of EPIC Academy, Rebuilding Exchange, and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab College and Career Advisory Board. She is a 2008 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, a 2012 American Marshall Memorial Fellow, a 2018 Vital Voices Global Ambassador, a former co-chair within Chicago Mayor Lightfoot's 2019 transition team, and a 2020 Presidential Leadership Scholar. Maria holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


Gabrielle MyersGabrielle Myers Headshot

Gabrielle Myers is a dedicated dynamic professional within the community outreach and healthcare space. With over 10 years’ experience with the Ounce of Prevention (ECAN) Educare Chicago Alumni serving as Chair - Resources and Recruitment. Creator of “Teen Talk” an outlet for teens to express themselves in a confidential safe environment where they discuss community and school issues and learn positive conflict resolution techniques. An Emerging leader in healthcare with 15 years of experience leading teams, strategic planning, training, and development of employees. Gabrielle is determined to work to improve public education for all children, advocate for quality mental health programs in underserved communities and schools, and actively working to build equitable health care for all.


Natalie NerisNatalie C. Neris

Natalie C. Neris leverages her work in education to advocate for social justice and equitable access for students in underserved communities. The first in her family to graduate from a 4-year university, Natalie began her career with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in her own Humboldt Park Community. A part of Chicago's educational ecosystem as a third-generation CPS graduate, parent, teacher, and administrator in both the District and Charter sector, Natalie is keenly aware that access to a quality education is a game-changer, especially for students living in communities most impacted by injustice. She has committed her life to this work.

Natalie earned her undergraduate degree from Northeastern Illinois University and her graduate degree from Concordia University. While in the classroom, Natalie earned a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and become a Nationally Board-Certified teacher. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree from National Louis University. In addition to her work at Kids First Chicago, Natalie is a 2017 Surge Fellow, named one of Chicago's Top 24 Latina Leaders in Philanthropy and Government, and a 2020 Cue Fellow and serves on the board of directors for Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center. She is the parent of two CPS students, a meditator, a lover of words, travel, food, connection and a fighter for the underdog.


Tiffany ParkerTiffany Parker

Tiffany Parker has worked in higher education for over 10 years. Throughout her tenure she has lead enrollment and admissions, student management, training, and operations. She has managed enrollment and recruitment for students in online, hybrid, and on-campus programs for a variety of public and private institutions. Tiffany has worked to implement collaborative procedures to enhance the student experience at each partnering university. Tiffany is very passionate about improving equity and equality in higher education. Along with her husband, Jerell Parker, they have created an endowment to provide financial relief to black males at Chicago State University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Texas at Arlington and a Master’s degree in Psychology and Organizational Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.


Adam Semel

Adam Semel, AIA, is a Managing Partner in the Chicago of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), where he serves as a leader of the firm’s strategic growth and client engagement across all regions. He plays an integral role in the management and delivery of large-scale complex projects, with an extensive multi-billion-dollar portfolio that includes projects in Chicago, across the United States, and overseas. His expertise extends to several practice areas, including commercial, residential, cultural, education, interior design, and urban design at all scales. Semel is highly experienced in navigating public agency approvals, zoning regulations, and facilitating meaningful conversations with local communities.

Semel plays a key role in SOM’s commitment to Chicago and serves as an advocate for the city’s continued growth. In 2016, Semel was named a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago, and in 2019, he joined the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Architecture Center. Semel holds degrees from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Wesleyan University.



Carrie StewartCarrie Stewart headshot

Carrie is co-founder and CEO of Afton Partners, an education finance consultancy. Afton empowers education leaders with effective financial strategies, collaborating with school districts, state agencies, charter school operators, social venture philanthropists, and other investors in public education. 

Prior to establishing Afton, Carrie was a Senior Director at Alvarez & Marsal. From 2005-2007, Carrie helped in the rebuilding of the public school system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Prior to joining Alvarez & Marsal, Carrie was a Manager in Arthur Andersen’s corporate restructuring group in Chicago.

Carrie serves on several non-profit boards in a personal commitment to public education reform in historically underserved communities.