Posted: October 01, 2010
Colorado’s Top 25 most influential young professionals
These Gen XYZers are an impressive bunchBy Mike Cote
If you've passed the age when few would call you a "young" professional, it's mighty humbling to read the stories about the people on the following pages.
As the judges of the inaugural Top 25 Most Influential Young Professionals in Colorado reviewed more than 150 nominations, we were wowed by the level of success these 21- through 39-year-olds have achieved in their relatively brief careers. We had a tough time selecting just 25, even though we focused not only on business success, but on impact in the community through mentoring, volunteer work and philanthropic efforts.
As we look toward the future and a time when our current economic slump is but a distant memory, here are some people whom you can bet on to help to lead the way. We selected five young professionals from among the 25 for special recognition both on these pages and at our Gen XYZ celebration that ColoradoBiz held on Sept. 30.
- Mike Cote, ColoradoBiz editor
Jennifer Chang, 29
Global Technology Resources Inc.
Engineering grad has found success in technology industry - and with helping others.
Jennifer Chang has been honing her leadership skills since she was a high school student in California. That's when she became involved with Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership. The Westlake Village, Calif. based organization provides leadership training for students who are nominated by their schools. Chang was selected to attend a seminar where topics included world hunger and other issues.
"It was life changing for me," she says. "I learned the world is bigger than high school, that there is more out there."
She also learned that she can help, and that she can lead other people to help, too. When she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, she founded Project V.I.P., a mentoring program for at-risk middle school kids.
Chang holds a B.A. and M.A. from UC Berkeley, a graduate certificate in engineering management from Drexel University, and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado Denver. She worked for Lockheed Martin and was accepted into its Operations Leadership Development Program. She chaired the Space Systems Recruiting Committee and traveled to different colleges to recruit. She also led the Lockheed Martin Women's Network.
She now works for GTRI (Global Technology Resources Inc.), a Denver-based technology consultant provider. As a federal account executive, Chang markets GTRI programs to defense program managers.
Chang is a young Asian-American woman succeeding in an industry that historically attracted mostly white men. Nikki Brown, a UC Berkeley classmate and longtime friend, nominated Chang for the ColoradoBiz Top Gen XYZ Most Influential Young Professionals. When she needed to gather biographical information, Brown told Chang it was for a case study about successful women and she wanted to include a nonwhite young woman. (This was true; Brown is taking classes and plans to begin a doctorate program in January.)
"Jen leads by example," Brown says. "You influence others when you are constantly trying to improve yourself to become more successful."
Chang says being determined and passionate and also being humble and having flexibility are important skills in both volunteer work and in the workplace. Today she mentors high school students and helps them handle the college application process. The students ask the usual questions about how to get into certain schools, and they sometimes ask bigger questions.
"A common theme that comes up is, can one person really make a difference," Chang says. "They want to know, does it matter if I try hard, and who really is going to be affected?"
She says her role is to encourage them to focus on helping even one person. "I met with my mentor, and she said the same thing, that if she is able to touch one person, she knows she has succeeded."
Brown, who now volunteers with Hugh O'Brian Youth, says Chang also sets an example by seizing opportunities instead of waiting for things to happen. "Her attitude is, I am at a great company; I have been given a great opportunity; let me use it as much as possible," Brown says. "She has master's degrees and certificates, but she does not sit back and think she is owed anything."
- Nora Caley
Matt Shoup, 29
Faced with a layoff, this Loveland resident painted his way to success .
Sometimes, a little hardship is just the incentive needed for a successful venture.
In March 2005, Matt Shoup was laid off from his corporate job. Recently out of college, with debts and a mortgage to pay off, he faced his challenge head on.
"I had no money to my name," Shoup says. "But I had a wife who was supportive, and I knew I had to make it happen. It was a good time to test myself and see what I was made of."
He's made of the stuff that creates a successful painting company, even in the face of a bad economic situation. This year, M & E Painting, which serves residential neighborhoods in Northern Colorado, had a client base of more than 40 people. As of the end of 2009, Shoup had grown M & E Painting to a company that pulled in more than $2 million in revenue.
The secret to his success, says the owner of the Loveland-based company, is a positive attitude.
"It's a tough time for a lot of home-improvement companies, but if you keep the quality up and you have a good team, you'll be fine," Shoup says. "If you say you're going to be down 30 percent, you will be. We decided to grow. We have a belief in excellence, and that helps build the company."
Because of the seasonal quality of his work, Shoup employs contract crews that work in the spring through autumn, and he has a staff of around 15 full-time people.
A solid reputation has led M & E Painting to be recognized by the Northern Colorado Business Report as one of Northern Colorado's Fastest Growing Companies in 2010. ColoradoBiz also featured M & E this year as one Colorado's Companies to Watch, a program sponsored by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
"I have an amazing team," Shoup says. "They do a great job, and that positive reputation is so important to our customer base."
David Sward, who worked with Shoup painting houses when they were in college, is one of those team members.
"He is truly a wonderful man first and a businessman second," Sward says. "He believes in benefits for the employees and freedom for us to work and reach our own individual potentials through his motivation."
His humanitarian efforts, Sward says, help Shoup stand out in the community.
The team that Shoup praises gets together when M & E Painting holds its annual free paint makeover.
"It all started in 2007, when we had a customer call and say she couldn't afford to have her house painted because her husband had died of a heart attack," Shoup says. "I was on my way to give her deposit back when I thought, ‘Hey, we should do this for free.'"
This year, the company will paint three houses for needy families. Paint and labor are all donated.
"What you get from it is incredible," he says. "It's the intangibles. You can't even describe the look on someone's face when you tell them you're going to paint their house for free. It builds positive energy."
- Maria Cote
Kimberly Smith, 38
Avenue West Corporate Housing
Entrepreneur balances corporate-housing business with raising her family.
Kimberly Smith entered the corporate-housing world on a fluke. Near the end of her college days as a political-science major, she took a trip to Vietnam, but decided to try a business internship in San Francisco when she returned. By the time she showed up to the Golden State, the only internship left was in corporate housing - not a job little girls dream about, she said.
Nonetheless, inspired by weekend meetings her professor set up with "amazing entrepreneurs," such as the founders of PowerBar and Odwalla, Smith excelled. She worked in the corporate-housing field in the Bay area with her new husband for a while. In 1999, the couple decided they could do better. They moved to Colorado, where Smith grew up, and launched a business of their own.
"It grew way faster than we could have imagined," said the CEO of AvenueWest Corporate Housing, a multimillion-dollar venture and the largest corporate housing property management company in Colorado.
Smith, 38, attributes her success partly to good genes. Her childhood memories include stuffing mailers and licking stamps for one of her dad's three companies or her mom's 160-year-old family business. "We were always doing something related to business."
More importantly, her parents instilled problem-solving skills and a view that there are no limitations in life - two virtues Smith aspires to every day, her colleagues say.
"She's always ready to ask the tough questions and to get people to think about things in a new perspective," said Mary Ann Passi, executive director of the Corporate Housing Provider's Association, for which Smith is an elected member of the board.
One of Smith's most notable innovations came when she realized her company - which provides upscale, furnished, urban housing for corporate business people in Colorado Springs, Denver and San Francisco - wasn't fulfilling the whole need. Every week, she would get calls from owners or prospective renters wanting to rent housing, sometimes nonurban, from all over the country. "I'd have to say: That's not what we do."
So in 2005, she and her husband, who live in Highlands Ranch, launched CorporateHousingByOwner.com. "It was a little scary. You are making a product that, in some ways, is competing with your own business," said Smith, whose CHBO clients range from family vacationers to people who lost houses in the recent Boulder fire to recession casualties forced to move to find work but not ready to completely uproot.
Most recently, knowing that her company could expand far beyond her reach, Smith created AvenueWest Global Franchise. "The most rewarding part is watching other couples become successful business owners based on what we've learned," she said.
Her volunteer projects are often focused on boosting the success of women and girls, such as fundraising for Dahka Weaves, a women's enterprise program in Nepal, and spending every Memorial Day with her family working at 100 Elk Outdoor Center, a mountain leadership program in Buena Vista, where she has sponsored inner-city girls.
Smith's family, including two boys, ages 4 and 7, are her primary focus, as Smith calls herself a "hybrid," neither a career woman nor a stay-at-home mom. Her colleagues wonder how she does it, as a CEO of three companies who regularly volunteers at school.
"I wish I knew her secret," Passi said. "If she could bottle that and share it, she'd have herself yet another successful business."
- Debra Melani
Trevor Dierdorff, 38
Going the extra mile for a customer inspired the launch of a business.
Trevor Dierdorff clearly remembers the phone call that launched his business in 1998.
It came from a senior named Mildred, who contacted the Best Buy store where he worked as a PC technician. Mildred needed someone to install a new modem on her computer.
Dierdorff gave her the company line - "If you'd like to bring it in, we'd be happy to help you" - and she gave him an earful.
"Young man, I am 83 years old, and if you think I'm going to crawl under my desk and unhook that metal box and carry it downstairs and bring it over to you, you've got another thing coming," she said. "Now. Who can help me?"
On his own time, Dierdorff went to Mildred's home and installed her modem. The next day, feeling conflicted, he told his supervisor at Best Buy what he'd done. To his surprise, his boss gave him the go-ahead to keep doing it.
"So rather than turning folks away, I built a small customer base," Dierdorff says.
Amnet was born.
"Trevor does a great job at being open to every opportunity that comes his way," says Hunter Willis, Amnet's marketing coordinator, who nominated Dierdorff as one of Colorado's 25 most influential young professionals.
In February 2000, Amnet became Dierdorff's full-time job; before the year was out, he had hired his first employee. The company, which has had steadily increasing revenues even during the toughest economic times, now has a staff of 15 and is looking to add two more in 2010.
And once they come, they stay - the last departure was three years ago. Part of the reason: the opportunities Dierdorff creates within the company, which includes weekly upskilling.
"I'm a big believer in hiring smart people and keeping them smart," Dierdorff says. "Somebody we hired as a receptionist now does Web design and training. One of our technicians is now our tech services manager. I try to make sure we discover our employees' talents and interests."
Dierdorff's impact on the Colorado Springs community - and up-and-coming entrepreneurs - extends well beyond his own company's doors. He volunteers as an instructor for Junior Achievement and has raised more than $25,000 for Southern Colorado Youth for Christ, which helps at-risk teens.
"I'm a big believer in the law of reciprocity: Do good, and good comes back to you," he says.
"As far as influential people go, people who really run their business in an ethical way but also go out of their way to help others, Trevor is the best I've ever worked for," Willis says. "As far as character goes, he's exceptional."
And then there's the likability factor.
If success hasn't gone to Dierdorff's head, it might be because he remembers what it's like to hit bottom. The end of a marriage "knocked the wind out of me," he says. "I went from top sales guy to bottom sales guy, and within a year, I had been through three more sales jobs."
Which is how Dierdorff happened to be working at Best Buy the day Mildred called.
"It's the hardships that grow us as people," he says. "Personal growth sucks. It's a pain to go through. But it's also important to go through. To this day, I'm passionate about improving myself."
- Lisa Ryckman
Amy Sufak, 36
Red Energy Public Relations
Air Force vet runs successful PR and ad agency
Amy Sufak didn't let a little thing like a bad economy stop her from launching a successful public relations and advertising agency.
"It was a little scary to take that kind of chance," says Sufak, 36, who started Colorado Springs-based Red Energy Public Relations in 2008. "But what I found out was that a lot of businesses were cutting back on highly paid marketing and public relations people and outsourcing the work. I was able to say, ‘Listen, I can help you.'"
Today, the company works with corporate, nonprofit and government organizations nationwide.
This year, she was named Public Relations Person of the Year for Colorado by the Public Relations Society of America. She also earned a gold medal in the Hermes Creative Awards competition for her work on the Parade of Homes-style showcase of retirement communities. To help foster opportunities for other small businesses and nonprofits, she leads her team in providing multiple pro-bono projects every fiscal quarter.
"I believe it's important for all of us to help others succeed," she says. "In part, I owe my success to the Air Force, because they put me in this field head first."
After earning a bachelor's degree in public relations and marketing from Simmons College in Boston, Sufak joined the Air Force as a public affairs officer. She spent 12 years traveling the world, and worked with all the major news outlets, from ABC to the BBC.
"I coordinated ceremonies and offered support for three presidents, heads of state, kings, queens and four-star generals," Sufak says. "What I loved about meeting them was discovering that they're just like the rest of us. They want to bring a toy home for their child after a trip, or they want to remember an anniversary. But unlike us, they can't just walk into Toys 'R' Us. So that was part of my job. They were all grateful and kind to me, and it was really touching."
Though she has only a handful of full-time, year-round employees, she employs interns who work for college credit during the year.
This year, she has 11 interns helping her handle 19 accounts, which include several nonprofit and corporate clients, along with one government agency.
"I put them on real accounts, and they've performed phenomenally," says Sufak, who is married and has two young children. "This is their chance to put something on their resume, and that manpower helps me to secure larger contracts. When I was 19, someone gave me a chance and I flourished. I want to give back."
Sufak laughs when discussing the name of her company.
"The good thing is, nobody ever forgets it," she says. "To me, it means passion, excitement, a leading edge, and assertiveness. The people who work here are energetic, directed and willing to take a chance."
- Maria Cote
Anthony Lambatos, 28
Professional position: Lambatos is co-owner and chief executive officer of Footers Catering, a Denver business founded in 1981.
Path to success: Lambatos grew up working in the family business with his father, Jimmy Lambatos. At 16, he led the team that did the catering for the Denver Parade of Homes, handling supply orders from vendors, scheduling, management, customer service and other duties. After earning a degree in sports marketing from the University of Oregon, he returned to Colorado to work for the Denver Broncos. In 2005, Lambatos resumed working with his father to help run Footers and to open Baur's Ristorante. Now CEO of Footers, Lambatos also is a partner in the food and beverage management of Green Valley Ranch Golf Course and Sporting News Grill.
Making an impact: Lambatos coaches boys basketball in the fall and winter and swimming in the summer.
Business connections: Lambatos' business affiliations include the Colorado Caterers Association, the Denver Advisory Board, the Denver Sports Commission, Denver Young Professionals, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. He sits on the sponsorship committee for the Denver Public Library's annual fundraiser.
Words to live by: "I feel that I always have a choice in what I do and how I handle situations. It forces me to take accountability and helps me when faced with adversity."
L. Heath Sampson, 39
Professional position: Chief financial officer of SquareTwo Financial
Path to success: After earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Sampson in 1994 joined Arthur Andersen LLP, where he led financial initiatives for such Colorado employers as Level 3 Communications Inc., Echo Star Corp., Qwest Communications and Vail Resorts. In 2002, he joined First Data Corp. as vice president of risk, control and audit. Since 2009, Sampson has been chief financial officer of SquareTwo Financial, where recently led the successful development and completion of a $475 million financing package.
The sporting life: Sampson came to Colorado in 1991 from Calgary, Alberta, after earning a Division 1 hockey scholarship from the University of Denver. He played forward for the Pioneers while studying accounting. While at DU, he worked as a graduate assistant coach.
Making an impact: Sampson coached young children in hockey and soccer even before he had children of his own. He also has been involved in the United Way and the Western Union Foundation. In 2006, he was recognized by the University of Denver as the Young Alumnus of the Year for the accounting profession, which recognized his work speaking to students and faculty about his business experiences and providing advice on careers and internships.
Words from a colleague: Through these many personal and professional achievements, Sampson has shaped the future for Colorado businesses, employees and young athletes," nominator Stacey Hartmann said.
Kerry Petranek, 31
Professional position: Petranek is CEO of Durango-based StoneAge Inc., a leader in the design, manufacturing and sales of waterblasting tools used for industrial cleaning applications.
Path to success: Petranek, who was hired as general manager in 2007, moved the operation to a new facility, restructured the organization and streamlined departmental responsibilities. The company's owners soon realized that Petranek had the drive, creativity and intelligence to help run the company. She was promoted to chief executive officer in 2009.
Making an impact: Petranek sits on the board of directors for Animas High School, a local charter school focused on project-based learning. She also leads and participates in local economic development groups, including the Growth Company Initiative CEO Network, and the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
Business connections: The company works with more than 180 dealers in 35 countries. Those that use the services include refineries, power plants, chemical plants and ship yards.
Words to live by: "To be a quality leader, you must be able to bring out the best in the people you are leading, giving them the support and tools to excel at what they do. Powerful leaders know how to express themselves articulately and use self awareness and self analysis to advance their own improvement and improve the group as a whole. StoneAge's success is due to the hard work of every employee."
Sami Ibrahim, 34
Professional position: Principal and co-founder of Agility Solutions LLC, a Denver-based consulting firm.
Path to success: In an economic downturn, Agility opted to offer flexible fee arrangements for clients. The company offers contingency-based pricing agreements that allow companies to self-fund projects. The fee arrangement can be tied to market improvement.
Making an impact: Ibrahim is a board member of the Colorado Children's Chorale, hosts a St. Patrick's Day party that benefits the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, and serves on the speakers bureau of the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Background: Ibrahim is a certified public accountant and a certified internal auditor. Ibrahim has been an adjunct professor of accounting at the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado Denver.
Words to live by: "One of my greatest challenges has always been letting go of responsibilities and not getting overextended. Experiencing rapid growth, as we have done over the last five years, is one of the best ways to force yourself to let go, because if you don't, you will limit not only your own professional growth, but your colleagues' growth and development, and your ability to be involved with the world outside work."
Diana Mead, 38
Professional position: President of Allonhill, a Denver-based financial service firm that specializes in mortgage due diligence and credit-risk management.
Path to success: Mead's persistence and salesmanship led to success with a large government entity, along with other important government contracts. In January, Allonhill announced its new approach to securitizations, which included tighter review processes.
Facing challenges: Mead was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 28. The year before, her husband had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer. She plans to celebrate her personal and professional success by running the 2011 Paris Marathon.
Business growth: The company launched in 2008 amid an economic downturn. Mead's ability to win and retain clients helped Allonhill become one of the largest due diligence and credit-risk management firms in the country.
Praise from a colleague: "Diana is a savvy businesswoman who played a key role in making the Denver-based financial services firm one of the fastest-growing companies in Colorado," CEO Sue Allon said. "Her leadership and aggressive pursuit of new business helped drive Allonhill's tremendous growth in a highly competitive corner of the financial industry."
Sarah Kurz, 28
Professional position: Principal at SE2, a Denver-based mass communication firm focused on public issues, policy and social marketing.
Path to success: With a talent for strategic policy communications, Kurz has managed and directed many of the legislative outreach programs for statewide health-care groups. She was involved in the Preschool Matters campaign, the successful Denver sales tax proposal on the November 2006 ballot.
Company history: SE2 started with a vision to build a communications firm focused on public issues. Approaches range from conservative to edgy, but the vision never changes. The company aims to tip the scales of public opinion and move audiences to action.
Business connections: Kurz, a graduate of Duke University, was a member of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's 2008 Impact Denver class. She honed her skills while working at Duke's Kenan Institute of Ethics.
Words to live by: "Being a strong leader is all about effective communications. It's important to clearly communicate expectations in advance and feedback after a project has been completed. My job involves helping my clients persuasively reach their target audiences. As manager, I need to accomplish the same thing."
Christina Vincent, 30
Professional position: Redevelopment program administrator for the city of Fort Collins, which manages the Urban Renewal Authority.
Path to success: Vincent began her career doing planning work for a business improvement district in San Diego, which led to her being hired as executive director of the College Area Development Organization of San Diego. In 2007, she took a city planner position in Fort Collins, where she managed the Urban Renewal Authority.
Business connections: Under her guidance, the URA has assisted in financing six redevelopment projects and more than $100 million in public/private tax increment financing partnerships since 2008.
Making an impact: Vincent sits on the "Be Local" board of directors, supports the Economic Development Bioscience Cluster of Fort Collins and is part of the city's economic development team.
Words to live by: "A leader is a big-picture thinker and optimistically seeks creative ways to bring those big-picture ideas to fruition. I'm a curious person and constantly ask questions and opinions of others. I do my best when I understand the various dynamics that play into the situation or relationship. I want to know how and why things work."
Justin Burns, 31
Professional position: Account executive with tw telecom, a Littleton-based provider of managed networking solutions. The company works with a wide array of businesses and organizations in 75 markets spanning 30 states and Washington, D.C.
Path to success: Burns had several mentors. Gary Black, president of a corporation he worked for, helped him establish a career. Through volunteering, he met Cindy Fowler, who raised money for local military charities while she fought cancer. She was, Burns says, "a true inspiration."
Making an impact: Burns is the director of the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which benefits local military charities. He also mentors young professionals.
Business connections: Burns works mostly with executives to help them streamline their business communications.
Words to live by: "I think in order to be a true leader, you have to know how to serve. That's why I immerse myself into a lot of projects. I know what the community needs. When you know the heartbeat of the community, you can provide true leadership."
Joel Wochner, 38
Professional position: Founder and CEO of Denver-based Evolve, a manufacturer of custom-designed apparel and merchandise.
Path to success: Wochner was trained in various healing, environmental and farming methods at the Chicago College of the Healing Arts. He's a structural therapist who has studied traditional Chinese medicine and shamanism.
Making an impact: Wochner holds a seat on the board of the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross and is involved with the Denver "Change Your City" campaign.
Planetary stewardship: The philosophy of the company is that because our planet's resources are in peril, collaborating with companies and focusing on nature will help solve human problems in a sustainable fashion, and help the environment return to health. The company looks to protect the environment in three main areas: water, energy and natural resources. In each of these areas Evolve expects to face significant challenges in the coming years.
Words to live by: "At Evolve, we believe global change starts with us. It takes love and compassion to be a good leader. We believe we can make the life of every person our garments touch better, do it competitively and sustainably, and extend our customers' brands into every thread while creating a workforce of brand evangelists."
Deborah Morrison, 35
Professional position: Director of marketing at GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, a study-abroad program based in Westminster.
Path to success: Morrison graduated with a degree in zoology. She studied abroad and worked in Mexico after graduation. Morrison spurs her company and the field of international education to reach more students so they might experience the power of international education.
Making an impact: Major initiatives have included GlobaLinks Learning Abroad's partnership with the Colorado Carbon Fund. Morrison is chairwoman of the Sustainable Business Practices Committee. Her execution of a brand management strategy allows for three separate brands tailored to the Australian, European and Asian regions.
Reaching out: Web and print materials support the efforts of university international education offices to promote study abroad and play an integral role in generating more than 3,000 annual participants in the GlobaLinks programs to earn degrees overseas, intern or study abroad. Globalinks has fully embraced social and media tools to respond to the younger generation.
Words to live by: "Being a good leader is about trust and integrity. You have to provide the right amount of direction and encourage ownership - and then let go. Another person will never do things exactly as you would do them, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. You have to be able to identify when something is different, but equally effective, as opposed to when it will not achieve the goal. And in the end, you have to be willing to share the success or the failure."
Joshua Holmberg, 38
Professional position: Regional vice president of sales at BroadSoft Inc., a provider of voice-over-IP application software. BroadSoft is based in Gaithersburg, Md., and has a regional presence in Denver
Path to success: Holmberg began his career at US West, where he was manager of technology selection and digital switch engineering. His leadership skills were valuable in the U.S. Senate while he worked in the office of Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
Making an impact: Holmberg has been a volunteer at the University of Denver since 1998. He's also the president for the board of Colorado's Communication Technology Professionals. Holmberg is the co-author of the best-selling book "The Teen's Guide to Personal Finance." He volunteers at speaking engagements and seminars to educate youth on basic personal finance.
Business connections: Holmberg has represented Colorado's largest communication providers, including Quest Communications, Level 3 Communications, Comcast and tw telecom.
Words to live by: "I believe that the foundation of successful leadership is based on trust, integrity and respect. A good leader needs to understand when to follow, and to encourage empowerment and accountability. A key aspect to my success is motivating those around me to work together toward a common goal, providing positive reinforcement along the way, and sharing the credit when the goal is achieved."
Dan Zitting, 28
Professional position: Founder and CEO of Westminster-based iTickmark, a Web-based company focused on Web-based software for auditors.
Path to success: Zitting has years of experience in audit, attestation and assurance services. In 2008, he co-founded the CPA firm Linford & Company LLP. He quickly discovered the software tools available for professional auditors did not meet the needs of his firm.
Learning curve: Zitting taught himself an open-source programming language and built his own Web-based software.
Business connections: When it was clear that other organizations wanted to use the software, he built a team. His mission is to develop tools to make for happier, more productive accountants.
Words to live by: "The essence of being a leader is truly caring about your work and being willing to take chances on what you believe in. My business is a success because both myself and my team care about what we do. We build software for accountants. The reason we do is because we are accountants and the tools we wanted were not available to us. We built those tools from scratch. It is easy to be passionate about something you conceptualized, you designed, and you built and even easier when later you get to see it making a difference for other people."
Michelle Carmichael, 34
Professional position: Artistic director, B&B Dance Co., a Brighton studio oriented toward technical and professional dance and stage education.
Path to success: Carmichael, a Colorado native, has performed with many companies, including Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Co. and the David Taylor Dance Theatre. She has trained many celebrated choreographers and teachers.
Making an impact: Carmichael has inspired students she's instructed in ballet, jazz, modern and tap dancing since 2008, when she and her partner, Betsy Matthews, took over a failing studio. The studio continues to grow, despite the bad economy.
A colleague's praises: "Due to Michelle's expertise, innovation and highly educated background in dance, B&B is now the best studio for technical and professional dance and stage education in Brighton," said Betsy Matthews, of B&B Dance Co., who nominated her.
Dan Richardson, 39
Professional position: e2 Clean Energy Solutions team leader for Schmueser Gordon Meyer (SGM), a multidisciplinary civil engineering and surveying firm based in Glenwood Springs
Path to success: Richardson is a resident of Carbondale who has been greening Colorado for more than a decade, innovating, growing awareness and enacting meaningful change. Prior to SGM, Dan worked for the city of Aspen as director of the Canary Initiative, the state's first program specifically dedicated to reducing emissions on a community scale - a model that has since been emulated by numerous Colorado communities.
Making an impact: One of Richardson's many roles is as a consultant to the Governor's Energy Office and its commitment to the New Energy Economy. As director of the Main Street Efficiency Initiative (MSEI), he administers programs at the community level to help small businesses reduce energy costs, create local jobs and reduce carbon emissions.
Connecting with the community: Richardson served on the board of directors of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and on the Glenwood Springs City Council. He also served on the boards of directors for Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) and New Century Transportation Foundation.
Words to live by: "I strive to live a life worthy of imitation. I rely on family, friends and a strong will in doing so."
John Wilker, 33
Professional position: President of 360 Conferences, which organizes conferences for software developers.
Path to success: Wilker started 360 Conferences in 2007 after he attended an event as an independent software provider that cost him more than $1,000 to attend (not counting travel and hotel) and found he got very little back for his money. He envisioned an event that software developers from all levels of financial backing could afford to attend. Since its start, 360 Conferences has held events across the U.S., Europe, and even on a cruise.
Making an impact: 360 Conferences' small attendances are designed to allow attendees to meet each other without wading through a sea of people. Also, events are focused on a single technology. 360 Conferences was one of the first to use Twitter to allow attendees to communicate in a backchannel sort of way, using a large screen TV in the main area to display a "Twitter wall." The company also revolutionized conference surveys by moving from paper surveys handed out by staff to a digital survey distributed to all attendees on a USB drive.
Connecting with the community: Whenever possible, 360 Conferences donates 20 percent of the event's income to charity. Often that's free tickets to the community, as well as the Charity Code Jam, which selects a local charity for which attendees spend three days building an app. In 2008, the conference gave a local food bank a new Web application and a check from the conference for $7,000.
Words to live by: "Business isn't about making as much money as possible; it's about building something people love and want to support. Business forgets that a lot."
Ken Tolle, 39
Professional position: Owner and principal, Launch Pad Media Advisers
Path to success: Tolle has reframed the traditional model of outside legal representation and established Launch Pad Media Advisers as both a leader in alternative billing and a "go to" resource for emerging and established media companies. Based in Denver where Tolle formerly served as vice president of programming for EchoStar Communications (now DISH Network), Tolle's core skills include video content licensing, sophisticated corporate transactions and business development.
Making an impact: Tolle has negotiated billions of dollars worth of programming network deals and established himself among the brightest under-40 contributors to the cable and satellite TV industry.
Connecting with the community: Tolle's work often translates directly into benefits for the community. For example, he works with a television network called HalogenTV that helps empower youths to make positive change through socially conscious lifestyles and activist living. He also advises an early stage startup not-for-profit called REVO that helps fledgling causes learn about fundraising activities.
Words to live by: "I try to counsel my clients with humility and a deep understanding of their business needs, and this has resulted in success for my clients and, as a result, my firm."
Jeremy Duhon, 30
Professional position: Vice president, portfolio manager and analyst for Denver Investments.
Path to success: Duhon started his career as a fellow at El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs. He served as El Pomar's senior investment fellow, and this led to his career at Denver Investments where he is a co-portfolio manager of the international strategies.
Making an impact: In his role of identifying candidates for his firm's portfolios, Duhon has traveled to more than 15 countries to interview the management teams of several hundred public companies. Near the end of 2006, he and colleague John Fenley took over management of Denver Investments' international products, made enhancements to the investment process and have produced impressive results since. Assets under management for the international products have more than doubled over the last 18 months.
Connecting with the community: Duhon is a partner with Social Venture Partners Denver and serves on the grant-making committee. He is a board member of The Gordian Fund and sits on its grant-making committee and is the founding president of the Pueblo Opportunity Fund.
Putting ideas to work: Duhon is the licensee and co-curator for TEDxMileHigh, an event scheduled for 2011 that will showcase 15 to 20 speakers and highlight innovative ideas and the people behind them, to inspire Coloradans to act upon ideas they are most passionate about.
Emma McArdle, 25
Professional position: City planner, city of Fort Collins
Path to success: McArdle came to Fort Collins as a planning technician and moved into a full-time city planner position six months later at the age of 23. She has coordinated the operations of the Development Review Team, which consists of 20 departments offering project feedback. She also has managed a project to electronically record the city's plans in an interactive library and ensured that processes are streamlined from previous handwritten methods.
Making an impact: Because of her technical skills, McArdle works on all special projects that come to the city planning office's development review team. She has worked on several high-profile redevelopment projects, including Union Place, a mixed-use affordable housing development with geothermal technology for heating and cooling.
Connecting with the community: "One of the things I like the most about my role as a city planner is how I am often intimately involved with the current development projects in my community. I enjoy working through the issues with developers, stakeholders, other staff and residents to ensure projects in Fort Collins are the best they can be."
Words to live by: "As a young professional my career philosophy is listen, learn and always do my best. I'm never going to know all the answers, but by being observant and willing to take anything on, I'm constantly improving my abilities."
Carl Rossow, 39
Professional position: Co-founder, iModerate Research Technologies and Benenson Strategy Group in Denver
Path to success: Rossow previously co-founded the strategic research and consulting firm Benenson Strategy Group. In 2004 he realized a need for organizations and companies to glean more insight from online surveys, so he co-founded iModerate Research Technologies, a qualitative research firm that allows online chats to be incorporated into a survey. Today iModerate has more than 150 clients, including 31 of the Fortune 100, Benenson Strategy Group also continues to grow, most notably handling much of President Obama's research and strategy.
Making an impact: Rossow has developed both on and offline real-time research methodologies for everything from ad testing to tracking studies. His expertise in research methods has assisted Fortune 500 companies, prominent organizations and heads of state.
Connecting with the community: Rossow draws from his business experience to provide guidance and direction for several local and national charitable organizations. He is a founding board member of the National Foundation For Fertility Research, and he and his wife have recently started their own foundation that encourages every child to dream and realize those dreams.
Words to live by: "Succeeding in business is 20 percent theory, 30 percent gut and 50 percent heart."
Chris Blees, 38
Professional position: President and CEO, BiggsKofford Certified Public Accountants and BiggsKofford Capital in Colorado Springs
Path to success: Blees joined BiggsKofford in 1994 after graduating from Western State College. Five years later at the age of 28 he became a partner in the firm.
Making an impact: In 2003, Blees launched his firm's M&A and investment banking practice, BiggsKofford Capital. It has become a leader in the sector throughout the West with more than 150 merger, acquisition or sale transactions in several states.
Connecting with the community: Blees, a father of two, is an Ironman triathlete who has climbed all of Colorado's 14ers. He sits on the boards of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, High Altitude Angel Investors Club, CU Chancellor's Leadership Council, and the Colorado Association of Business Intermediaries. He is a member of the Alliance of M&A Advisors (AMAA), Association of Corporate Growth (ACG), Colorado Association of Business Intermediaries (CABI) and the Colorado Society of CPAs.
Words to live by: "My personal success is defined by participating in the success of those around me."
Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at email@example.com.