Board of Directors
Andrew Annacone, Chair
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 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.
Alex has many years of security industry experience, with 17 of them in the downtown Chicago commercial high-rise market. Alex’s motivation for the security industry stems from the six years he served in the Marine Corps and as a civilian security contractor providing access control for the Yuma Proving Ground military testing installation in Arizona as Captain of the Guard. These years gave him a foundation for leadership and mission excellence required in a military environment. Alex also spent five years as pastor of non-denominational churches in Georgia and California.
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.
Natalie 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 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.
Lou Sandoval is the President and Managing Partner of Halo Advisory Group, a business advisory agency working with Fortune 100 companies to drive digital transformation and the application of technology to improve operating efficiency at scale. Most recently, Sandoval served as President and CEO of SupplyHive™. Previously, he held senior leadership positions at the Brunswick Corporation.
Lou has served on the Wintrust Bank Board of Directors since 2015, where he chairs the risk management committee and serves on the nominating compensation and governance committees. He brings over 30 years of professional experience in business development, mergers and acquisitions, technology, and leading strategic growth initiatives. Sandoval’s board service extends to the non-profit sector and over two decades of service on various local and national boards.
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 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.
Jimmie Wells is currently the Senior Finance Director at Century Snacks. He spent four years at Dean Foods, and prior to that, he worked at McGraw-Hill Education, Walgreens and PepsiCo. He received his MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Jimmie did his undergraduate work at the University of Chicago and played football during his time there. He is a committed husband and father and serves on the local school council at his daughter's school.