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GenXYZ: Our Top 25 Young Professionals, A to D

ColoradoBiz’s under-40 achievers of 2016 prove age is really just a number.


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Meet our Top 25 Young Professionals, A to D:

Jessica Acosta, 35

Principal/CEO, Environmental Consulting Services

It’s not easy starting high school. It’s even tougher when you’re 14 and speak no English.

For Jessica Acosta, that was just another challenge to be faced and conquered. She did it again when she worked her way up in the male-dominated construction industry to become a project manager.

“You are the only one who can determine the level of success you want to achieve,” Acosta says. “I learned this early in my career when I graduated with a communications degree and was faced with the reality of my bills and had to pursue a job in the construction industry. I thought, ‘What could I possibly do in construction?’ It was never an industry or career I had even remotely considered.”

Acosta not only survived, she thrived, along the way acquiring the knowledge to be in charge of all environmental compliance requirements. Laid off after six years, Acosta decided to take that knowledge and turn it into a new business venture.

Environmental Consulting Services (ECS) gives clients the storm water management and compliance tools, as well as water quality information they need, to focus on project success. The firm also facilitates risk mitigation and promotes a proactive approach to storm water compliance to protect client investments.

“When I started my business, I was afraid of the challenge because I had no idea how to start and run a business,” Acosta says. “But I was never afraid of learning something new. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to read plans when I first started. What mattered most was the fact that I didn’t see that as an obstacle to succeed.”

Gordon Bronson, 28

Director of Communications, Seawald Hanfling Public Affairs

Gordon Bronson hurtles headlong into whatever’s in front of him, be it an alpine racing course or a major political campaign.

A Colorado native and competitive skier, Bronson is Director of Strategic Communications for Denver-based public affairs firm, Seawald Hanfling. Politics is a passion; he worked to elect President Barack Obama, served in the Department of the Interior and on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Then-Mayor, now U.S. Sen. Cory Booker appointed Bronson to develop a new office within Newark, N.J.’s city government focused on catalyzing innovative partnerships to advance economic development and tackle social problems.

“I am inspired by the idea that unexpected partnership can bring uncommon opportunity to solve big problems,” Bronson says. “I like working across all sectors of the economy to find new and exciting ways to leverage partnership and create lasting impact.”

A University of Denver graduate, Bronson has lectured at DU’s Daniels School of Business on impact investing and ethics. He is also the recipient of Agora Partnerships 2013 Disruptive Awards. He’s proud of what he sees as a positive disruptive impact his generation is having on the world.

“Where we find walls, we make opportunities,” he says. “Don’t like taxis? Enter Uber. Tired of hotels? Hello, AirBnB. We look at things through the lens of disruption, and that has created an opportunity for fanatic innovation.”

Jeff Casimir, 35

Executive Director, Turing School of Software & Design

Casimir started the Turing School of Software & Design in 2014 as a nonprofit to open the world of programming to motivated people who want an entrée into 21st century careers. Part of his mission is to create a more diverse, creative and socially minded tech community, Casimir created a diversity scholarship program for qualified students.

Travis Conway, 37

President and Managing Director, SDR Ventures Inc.

Shortly after joining SDR Ventures in 2005, Conway spearheaded the company’s transformation into a firm focused principally on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisory services. Conway led the firm’s first sell-side M&A transaction, successfully sourcing, negotiating and helping the client close with an international buyer. Travis has led or co-led more than 60 successful M&A transactions. In April of 2016, he was named a winner of the 7th Annual Emerging Leaders Awards, presented by The M&A Advisor.

April Davis, 33

Owner, Cupid’s Cronies

Small-town work ethic, big-city ambitions: that’s the recipe that set April Davis on the path to success.

A model, hunter and life coach, Davis eliminated the need for pesky dating sites and apps with her upscale matchmaking company for professionals and executives, Cupid's Cronies, founded in 2010. By leveraging her business network and finance background to create systems and procedures to streamline internal processes, she was able to help clients receive the best possible experience when it came to personalized matchmaking and date coaching.

Building a business was a natural extension of the values imbued in her as one of six kids growing up in a small rural town. Davis got her first job at age 11 and never looked back.

“Like many entrepreneurs, I can't sit still, am super competitive, and love the challenge. If someone tries to tell me I can't do something, they've just put fuel on the fire,” Davis says. “I used to race snowmobiles professionally for 10 years and this competitive sport ingrained in me a drive to constantly strive to be the best at whatever I chose to do.  What that equates to in my company is I need to be the best option when it comes to hiring a service to find my client's match.”

So far, the most important career lesson she’s learned is to never stop learning.

“I believe that my curious nature is what has pushed me to become more successful because I'm constantly, proactively studying, working on myself, and striving to improve,” she says. “We are all works in progress and need to recognize if the company we work for is to prosper and grow, it needs to start with us as individuals.”

Stephanie Donner, 39

Legal Counsel, Galvanize

“Being a part of something that is bigger than myself.” That’s what drives Stephanie Donner, former chief counsel for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

She now puts her skills and gumption to use at Galvanize, a startup aimed at expanding tech education opportunities at its campuses across the country.

Before becoming Hickenlooper’s chief counsel, Donner worked for the governor in other legal positions, including advising the flood recovery effort that brought millions of dollars to recovering residents.

She previously worked at Morrison & Foerster and represented public companies in securities fraud class actions, shareholder derivative lawsuits and special investigations. At Galvanize, Donner handles legal issues including M&A, new campus development, and other important aspects of the company’s growth.

Donner’s community involvement includes work with the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Women’s Bar Association, Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, and Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District.

The most important career lesson she’s learned so far? “Listen to everyone – and be grateful.”

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Lisa Ryckman

Lisa Ryckman is ColoradoBiz's managing editor. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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