GenXYZ 2014: 25 Most Influential Young Professionals
Twenty-five YPs who have reached the top and are still climbing
Just try reading about this year’s 25 Most Influential Young Professionals without a little envy and a lot of astonishment.
Really, how did they come so far so fast?
Take Rachel Scott: She’s marketing director for Quick Left, but she’s also a musician and elite athlete who founded the Colorado Women’s Cycling Project, the largest women’s cycling team in the nation and possibly the world.
“She’s started and run two successful companies, rebranded 100-year-old nonprofits, orchestrated deliveries of thousands of books by bike to underprivileged children and runs the CWCP team,” says her business partner and friend, Vera Divenyi. “I met her at 25 and she’s continued to blow me away with her accomplishments, personally and professionally.”
Paths to success haven’t always been paved or leisurely for these young professionals: Scott was the first in her family to graduate high school, let alone college.
Peak CEO Luke Norris, who started his first company at age 14, struggled with dyslexia – but used the challenge as a motivator.
“It forces him to communicate in-person and carefully consider what he says,” colleague Kelsey Bernius says. “With that, Luke built Peak into a company that puts the customer first, beginning with one-on-one communication.”
The payoff: Peak has grown more than 400 percent the past three years.
Our young standouts are doing very well – and doing good at the same time.
As a board member for Mile High Youth Corps since 2012, Lucas Mallory helped create an assessment tool that helps provide work opportunities for disadvantaged teens. As chair of PCL’s United Way Committee, he’s overseen the highest levels of employee giving in the company’s history: $1.45 million.
Attorney Tommy West founded Boulder Flood Relief and championed a state Senate bill to expand civil liability immunity for disaster-relief volunteers.
And even as she was breaking sales records, Monica Perez was saving the young professionals group at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“When the group was about to dissolve, she stepped up and became the much needed advocate to move the group through turbulent waters,” says her mentor, Patricia Barela Rivera.
Her praise for Perez might apply to any of the ColoradoBiz up-and-comers.
“She does not dabble in things,” Barela Rivera says. “She puts her heart and soul into any venture she pursues.”
When it comes to taking care of business, not even the sky’s the limit for these rising Colorado stars.
(This is the fifth year of the GenXYZ awards recognizing Colorado business standouts in the 20 to 40 age group. Winners were selected from online nominations and judged by a panel made up of ColoradoBiz magazine’s editorial staff, past GenXYZ winners and representatives of the business community.)
Sam Bailey, 25
Business Development Manager, Colorado Office of Economic Development
Snapshot: For the past two years, Bailey has been the program manager for the Colorado Companies to Watch Program, earning his place as a peer to many of the state’s most successful entrepreneurs and leaders. A student mentor, Bailey is a member of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s Impact Denver Class of 2014 and a past board member for the Colorado Thought Leaders Forum’s Strategic Connections Program.
My greatest passion: “Serving others. That passion has shaped my approach to economic development, volunteering, personal life and more.”
What others say: “Sam is constantly finding new ways to represent government as an advocate and strong resource, and to help business leaders see the state and government as a whole in a positive light,” colleague Sara van Rensburg says. “This is a goal many longtime politicians and government servants have yet to achieve, and Sam has done it by being genuine and by being of service to others.”
Casey Berry, 27
Founder, Imbibe Denver
Snapshot: As a founder of both Imbibe Denver and The Denver Passport program, Berry has a wealth of knowledge on starting and creating local brands. He has invested in IndiCard and Denver Off The Wagon, and currently acts as IndiCard’s chief marketing officer. He is also one of the creators of Cross-Cultured Denver, a meeting ground for the young and culturally curious to explore Denver’s artistic community and cultural institutions.
The best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Whenever a new venture arises and I fear the risks, I always write down the worst things that could happen if they fail. It helps take the fear out of going forward and putting yourself out there.”
Definition of success: “Seeing something through from start to finish.”
What others say: “Casey is very involved in the Denver community, especially with helping promote other local businesses,” nominator Alexandra Weissner says. “Many of Imbibe’s events benefit different local nonprofits like Water For People, Colorado Brewers Guild and Denver Arts & Venues.”
Tommy West, 27
Attorney, West Venture Law
Snapshot: West founded, organized and served as general counsel for Boulder Flood Relief, which raised funds for disaster relief efforts and dispatched thousands of volunteers to assist community members in need. He also championed Senate Bill 14-138, expanding civil liability immunity for disaster-relief volunteers. He organizes and presents at Boulder Startup Week to promote the entrepreneurial community. West founded, launched, and actively manages Pixel Space, a Boulder-based startup that promotes the community to visitors through a comprehensive experience and overnight accommodations.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Step out of your comfort zone. I make it a habit to do at least one thing every day that I wouldn’t normally do, whether big or small.”
What others say: “Tommy believes in what he does, and truly cares about the outcome of every community project he involves himself with,” client Erica West says. “I’ve never known someone more committed to the community than he is.”
Mandi McIntyre, 29
Development Director, Hospice of Northern Colorado
Snapshot: McIntyre has doubled fundraising at her nonprofit in one year. She developed a strategy to attract new audiences of all ages and demographics by hosting contests and finding relevant information to engage audiences on social media. Her ability to design external marketing materials saves her agency more than $40,000 a year.
My greatest passion: “Making a difference, but more importantly raising awareness about the value of nonprofit hospice and quality end-of-life care. I hope to change people’s perception that hospice is about death, because truly, hospice is about life.”
Definition of success: “Inspiring others by leading through example. To motivate, support and encourage those around you to be better.”
What others say: “Mandi’s ability to lead, supervise, mentor and motivate others along with her ability to do so effectively makes a huge difference in our agency’s overall success and her success as a young professional,” says her boss, Cindi Werner.
Rachel Scott, 29
Marketing Director, Quick Left
Snapshot: At Quick Left, Scott is involved in marketing professional circles as well as the startup and developer community. She is the hostess of the Quick Left Hackfest, a developer-centric event, and she is one of three organizers for the Marketing Professionals meet-up in the Boulder area. Scott is the co-founder of Colorado Women’s Cycling Project (CWCP), which has grown to 100 members in 3 1/2 years.
My inspiration: “Marie Marvingt, the French athlete, mountaineer, aviator and journalist. She applied to ride the 1908 Tour de France and was refused because it was men only. ‘Breakneck Marie’ went ahead and did it anyway. Out of 110 riders who were on the start line in Paris, only 36 finished: 36 men and one woman.”
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Fall in love with the process of improvement.”
What others say: “Rachel is one of the most driven people I know,” says her friend and business partner, Vera Divenyi. “I can depend on her to create amazing things from nothing with passion and enthusiasm.”
Anastasia Darwish, 32
Executive Director, American Transplant Foundation
Snapshot: In just three years, Darwish has tripled donations to the American Transplant Foundation and expanded its services to patients in 44 states. Along with overseeing the organization’s strategic shift, Darwish says her biggest accomplishment so far is initiating a donation program for Denver-based young professionals that has raised more than $140,000 and supported at least 150 patients in its footprint.
My greatest passion: “My mother was my best friend and biggest hero, and she taught me the value of living for the sake of others. Unfortunately, she lost her battle with cancer nearly four years ago. I know the devastation of losing the most important person in your life, and I’ve committed myself to helping others win their battles with life-threatening illnesses.”
What others say: “Growing up in the former USSR, Anastasia learned that taking care of those who need help is her calling,” foundation volunteer Brit Schabacker says. “In her hometown in the Ural Mountains, there were no nonprofit organizations. She started an informal after-school program for kids in her neighborhood when she was 8, collected clothes for foster kids when she was 12 and volunteered as a camp counselor every summer. She believes that no one should die while waiting for a transplant and works tirelessly to save the lives of the 2,500 Coloradans who are waiting.”
Monica Perez, 32
Agent, Your Castle Real Estate
Snapshot: Perez has broken the record for the number of homes sold in a year at her agency. For two years, she has been the top producer out of 400 agents at Your Castle Real Estate. Not only do clients rave about her services, they also appreciate her compassion and empathy.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “My business coach, Bruce Gardner, said that in life and business, when there is something that intimidates me or makes me shy away – that’s usually the step I need to take to reach the next level. Rather than avoid it, acknowledge it, make the decision to face the fear straight on and just start moving forward.”
What others say: “Monica Perez entered the real estate industry with the mind of an entrepreneur and was willing to take the risk of working exclusively on commission,” says her mentor, Patricia Barela Rivera. “With creativity and dedication, she has established a brand and service that is reliable and her clients can count on.”
Luke Norris, 32
Snapshot: Norris started his first business – the computer repair and resale company Computer Resale at Practical Prices — at age 14. In 2006, he founded Peak, a cloud service provider operating 11 cloud nodes spanning the United States and Europe. Peak, the only 100 percent channel-centric cloud in the marketplace, has seen its revenues increase 400 percent the past three years.
Definition of success: “The idea of success is finite, but I can’t live my life to an end. Instead, I focus on the wins, and celebrate every little win I can, whether it’s potty-training my kids or beating our sales goals for the quarter.”
What others say: “Mr. Norris tries to maintain an environment that rewards hard work,” says his nominator, Jaclyn Riback. “If Peak employees complete 40 hours of community service, they’re eligible for a 1 percent pay raise.”
Ryan Ross, 33
Dean of Student Development and Retention, The Community College of Denver
Snapshot: Ross has excelled at advocacy for low-income, first-generation students and has already managed two large federal college-access programs. He led a state professional association and currently serves as past president of a regional professional organization, ASPIRE, representing education opportunity professionals in six states. Ross serves on the national board of directors of the Council for Opportunity in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working to advance educational opportunity on behalf of nearly 1 million students.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Simply do good things because of who you are and not because who is watching. That rule has allowed me to give but to also be blessed tenfold.”
Most important lesson learned: “It is better to embrace the unknown, because that is where change and opportunity live.”
What others say: “Ryan believes that his mission in life is to serve the interest of others,” his friend and colleague Carrie Warren says. “Eight years ago, he answered a charge to create a mentoring program for boys of color. With no blueprint or budget, he wrote a curriculum, raised funds and developed a recruiting plan for a youth leadership program. Ryan grew up in Denver’s Eastside and Five Point areas. His passion to build a better community is directly related to his desire to pay it forward.”
Geoff Mina, 34
CEO/Co-Founder, Connect First Inc.
Snapshot: Mina dropped out of high school and wrote his first lines of code for the Connect First platform during a blizzard in upstate New York. Despite obstacles, Mina was able to co-found his company and grow it into a significant player in the cloud-based contact center industry. Unlike most CEOs, Mina still actively writes new programs to best cater to customers’ needs.
What others say: “Geoff might be the captain of the ship, but he is the antithesis of an autocratic leader,” colleague Will Hathaway says. “Geoff empowers his employees, and his confidence and trust in (them) has led to those employees spearheading award-winning ideas.”
Richard Murray, 34
Snapshot: As an associate in Polsinelli’s business and commercial litigation department, Murray has tackled courtroom face-offs representing doctors and insurance companies, gone toe-to-toe with local governments, and fought to recoup losses and damages within Denver’s busy commercial development and startup world. As a Board of Trustees member of Historic Denver Inc., he is an advocate for the successful restoration and protection of Denver’s historic landmarks.
Greatest accomplishment: “As student body president at CU, I drafted, sponsored and led the effort to pass student fee legislation that secured $150 million for capital construction projects. A new law school, business school addition, a technology school building and a visual arts complex have all been constructed using those funds.”
What others say: Polsinelli Managing Partner Gene Commander says: “Whether it’s his counsel in powerful legal cases looking to protect investments for companies and the rights of Colorado’s citizens,
or his volunteerism to protect city landmarks and provide unique fundraising opportunities for area nonprofits, Richard has shown that he is a committed to business success and civic leadership.”
Arif Gangji, 35
President/CEO, Neon Rain; Co-owner, Visiwick LLC
Snapshot: Gangji started a Web-hosting company in high school as well as a company that helped businesses find network vulnerabilities. After college, he immediately was hired by a network security firm and quickly ascended into management, leading teams from Denver to Tanzania. After eight successful years, Gangji founded Neon Rain, a Web, app and marketing firm in 2002. Each year since, Neon Rain has achieved at least 20 percent growth.
Most important lesson learned: “Everything worth doing is going to take 10 times more effort and three times more money than you expected.”
What others say: “Arif is the real deal,” business partner Sandy Haworth says. “He has achieved so much in his short professional career and given back way more. I believe in him so much that I was willing to share my company with him!”
Quayle Hodek, 35
CEO, Renewable Choice Energy
Snapshot: Green energy pioneer Hodek was 23 when he started Renewable Choice in his basement. “At the time, there were no major companies in the country buying renewable energy,” says employee Amy Haddon. Five years later, Hodek helped Whole Foods Market become the first major corporation to go to 100 percent renewable energy, spurring dozens of other multinational corporations to follow. He mentors emerging social entrepreneurs through the Unreasonable Institute and was instrumental in the creation of the Green-e Certification program, North America’s highest industry standard for renewable energy purchasing.
What others say: “Everyone who meets Quayle recognizes his passion for the planet, and he lives that passion every day in his work and life,” Haddon says. “His enthusiasm for social enterprise and entrepreneurism is infectious.”
Lucas Mallory, 35
Manager of Special Projects, PCL Construction Services Inc.
Snapshot: In his first year as special projects manager, Mallory increased the division’s volume from $14 million to $37 million. In 2009, he won PCL’s most prestigious individual honor, the Robert Stollery Leadership award. As the first project manager in the PCL Denver district to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation, Mallory now leads the district’s Green Committee, which implements environmentally conscious actions in the office and job sites. He has also been a board member of the Design Build Institute of America-Rocky Mountain Region since 2010, and member of the Urban Land Institute Colorado since 2013.
Most important lesson learned: “You need to work hard, but you can’t lose sight of your passions — the reason why we work. Today, I know how to work smarter and just as hard to prioritize my life outside of work.”
What others say: “Lucas’ charismatic and confident personality, along with a genuine passion for delivering the best, has positioned him as one of PCL’s most influential young leaders,” colleague Kelsey Bernius says.
Nicole Skogg, 35
Snapshot: Mobile-marketing evangelist Skogg started as an optical engineer, developing cutting-edge lighting systems. She founded SpyderLynk in 2006, at age 27, with the vision of leveraging brand logos and camera phones to bring the interactivity of the Internet to traditional media. Using her background in math and vision perception, she pioneered the development of the SnapTag– a logo that functions as an interactive mobile marketing tool when photographed with a camera phone. SpyderLynk has now served more than one-third of the top 100 U.S. advertisers including brands like Revlon, L’Oreal, Toyota and Coke.
What others say: “One of the many reasons why Nicole Skogg truly defines entrepreneurship and leadership is her keen insight about what it takes to build a business,” says Melodye Demastus, who nominated Skogg. “Many entrepreneurs work very hard, but they don’t always work very smart. Nicole does both.”
Kevin Brinkman, 36
Co-Founder/President, Brinkman Partners
Snapshot: In 2005, the year Brinkman and his brother started the business, Brinkman Partners was named Best Startup Company of the Year by the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
A year later, the company was given the Bravo Emerging Entrepreneur Award and since has been named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011 by Colorado State University’s Everitt Real Estate Center and 2013 Small Business of the Year by the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce. As a board member for the CSU Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise (CASE), Brinkman is leading CASE’s Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise $20 million capital campaign.
My greatest passion: “Integrating innovation into business. Any time we can take a difficult project and be unconventional about ways to make it not only work, but thrive, we are doing what we set out to accomplish as a company.”
What others say: “Kevin’s entrepreneurial spirit is unwavering,” Brinkman employee Kate Baker says. “Nearly 10 years after starting Brinkman Partners in his brother’s basement, he is still is driven by the same characteristics of uncensored creativity, a passion for helping others, and a motivation for doing business in ways it may not have been done before.”
Amanda Fein, 36
Senior Vice President-Treasury Management, Centennial Bank
Snapshot: Fein discovered her passion for banking at 18; 18 years later, she is senior vice president of treasury management and a member of the executive team. As one of Centennial Bank’s first eight employees, she helped it grow from $24 million in assets as of 2010 to more than $425 million today. She also helped the bank expand to nine locations and was a key part of the bank’s acquisition of Millennium Bank in 2012.
My greatest passion: “Life! I am one of those people who is excited and passionate about everything. I am an eternal optimist and feel so strongly about living this life once, that I want to make the best of each and every day.”
What others say: “Amanda is a shining example of the spirit of community banking,” says Jim Basey, CEO and president of Centennial Bank. “She understands that a healthy and vibrant community depends on strong businesses, personal relationships and a commitment to giving back.“
Rory Lamberton, 37
President/CEO, Emerald Isle Landscaping
Snapshot: Lamberton took his company, Emerald Isle Landscaping, from under $3 million in revenue to a projected $10 million in 2014. He opened four new branches, creating more than 150 new jobs and started a landscape-estimating software company, iBid Plus, for landscape professionals. Lamberton also owns and manages a residential rental company and started a consulting company with his wife, Natalie, to help new graduates prepare to enter the job market.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Surround yourself with the people who are where you want to be. If the people around you are ambitious and hard-working, you will be as well.”
Definition of success: “It’s not what you’ve done, but what you’ve done lately.”
What others say: “Rory is constantly pushing himself and his team to do more and do better,” friend Donna Petrocco says. “He has the ability to form, train and inspire a team of hard-working men and women. Rory is always creatively looking for new and better ways to get things done. He does not accept the word ‘no’ or ‘can’t’.”
Monisha Merchant, 37
Senior Advisor for Business Affairs, Office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet
Snapshot: Merchant co-wrote the winning proposal for the new regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, projected to have a $440 million economic impact. She led a multi-stakeholder effort to design the $4 million Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado grant program to formalize mentor networks for startups. She created the “first in the nation” state-based interagency council to connect federal, state and nonprofit organizations that provide funding and programs to small business. As a CU Regent from 2008-2011, she fought for affordable education, federal dollars for researchers and in-state tuition for DREAMERS. Merchant also spent a year with International Relief and Development as the deputy country director (2006-2007), overseeing implementation of post-tsunami construction, health and economic development projects.
Important lesson learned: “Every day, every opportunity, every challenge is a chance to learn. Sometimes things work out as you had originally planned; sometimes they don’t, particularly when you are taking on big, complex and persistent challenges.”
What others say: “(Even) Monisha’s ‘vacations’ are an extension of her leadership and public service,” says her friend, Pam Reichert. “For the past five years, she has volunteered with the Yale Alumni Service Corps projects in Brazil, Ghana and Nicaragua.”
Erin Neer, 37
Founder, MUNIRevs LLC
Snapshot: Neer, a CPA and former municipal finance director, created MUNIRevs, the first paperless system of its kind. Since inception in 2011, MUNIRevs has collected more than $30 million in paperless revenues. MUNIRevs also has patents pending on an economic impact module for event measurement, task and workflow methodology to allow municipalities more flexibility in managing business application processes and a tourism tracker for drag-and-drop daily lodging information for tourism destinations in Colorado.
Greatest accomplishment: “Developing and growing MUNIRevs, which has processed over $40 million in paperless revenues, achieving a 99 percent paperless submission process for more than 10,500 businesses.”
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “The value of your product should be realized in your customer’s eyes, not the eye of your bank or venture capitalist.”
Howard Rubin, 37
Managing Partner, Match Action
Snapshot: During his three years at the helm of Match Action, Rubin has more than doubled the company’s annual revenue to $35 million. Under his leadership, the agency has added Fortune 500 clients such as Nissan, Dole, BMW and Yamaha. Some standout work includes a groundbreaking experiential marketing program for Ford, called the Fiesta Movement, blending digital and social media with live events.
Greatest accomplishment: “Creating an environment where others can discover their talents and truly grow as individuals. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my colleagues unleash their creativity, refine their interpersonal skills and deliver award-winning work to our clients.”
Definition of success: “Never settling for mediocrity and maintaining a work/life balance that lets each aspect feed the other. It’s a pretty powerful combination.”
What others say: “Howard has a perpetual passion and dedication to Boulder and its business community. He makes a considerable effort to connect with local business owners across all sectors, and personally facilitates a sense of community,” says Steve Sapka, who nominated him.
Regan Petersen, 37
Co-Owner, Fitzgerald Petersen Communications
Snapshot: Petersen is in her ninth year of co-owning her own successful PR agency, with clients such as Walmart, Cirque du Soleil, Disney on Ice and the Clyfford Still Museum. Regan manages the McDonald’s Colorado public relations program, increasing positive visibility by 250 percent in the past eight years.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “Always over-deliver. Giving that extra idea to a client, making one more media call to exceed the goal or even reading one more book at bedtime to my kids will never be regretted.”
What others say: “Regan is constantly striving to ‘marry’ clients for the good of the community, thinking big to give back to nonprofit organizations,” her partner, Debbie Fitzgerald, says. “For example, McDonald’s and Water World are partnering to give back to the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that provides a ‘home away from home’ to families with ill children receiving treatment. She also brought McDonald’s and Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s One Book 4 Colorado Preschool literacy program together to ensure that every 4-year-old in the state receives a book – underwritten by McDonald’s – to promote early childhood literacy.”
Chris Lindley, 37
Snapshot: Lindley spent 10 years in a variety of roles at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including division director. In 2013, he decided to invest all of his time and resources into Qi, the company he shared with a partner. In the last year, he has revamped the business model, grown the company’s footprint and market share, received local accolades for best fitness facility, bought his partner out, added gym and retreat locations and rebranded the new and improved company as Endorphin.
My greatest passion: “Fitness. There is a direct link between fitness and one’s happiness. If you can’t play, it’s difficult to be happy.”
Most important lesson learned: “The easy part of entrepreneurship is coming up with ideas and plans; where the work starts is the implementation. It’s one thing to talk about grand ideas and solutions to societal problems, but it is a whole different thing to walk the tightrope, not knowing the wind conditions day-to-day.”
What others say: “Nine years in the U.S. Army Medical Reserves offered Chris the ultimate chance to serve his nation and community,” friend Miriam Pena says. “As the youngest unit commander to serve in the Iraq war, he supported mission-critical needs of 44,000 U.S. troops. He commanded eight preventive medicine specialists and an entomologist, traveling to 150 base camps. Chris was awarded a Bronze Star for quick response during a suicide bomber attack that demanded treatment of 91 injured.”
Aaron Fernandes, 39
CEO, Open Sky Wilderness Therapy
Snapshot: Since Fernandes founded Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in 2006, the organization has served more than 1,300 adolescents and young adults with severe mental health and behavioral challenges, including depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, substance abuse and suicidal behaviors. Inspired by Open Sky’s life-changing impact on her son and family, an alumni parent worked with Fernandes to start a 501-C3, Sky’s the Limit, to make wilderness treatment available to families in need.
What others say: “Aaron is driven, ambitious, passionate and values driven,” says Open Sky Executive Director Emily DeMong. “Community values run through the Open Sky program experience. Every month, parents from around the country and world gather in Durango for a Wellness Weekend. They take these skills into their own communities, resulting in a ripple effect through the country and world.”
Cassie Augustine Jones, 39
Vice President, O’Brien Advertising
Snapshot: Under Jones’ leadership, O’Brien has become one of Denver’s largest woman-owned businesses and ranked by ColoradoBiz as one of the state’s Top 250 Private Companies. In her 10 years with the company, the agency’s billings have more than quadrupled.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten: “One of the first bosses I ever had told me, ‘You can be the most brilliant person in the room, but if you don’t say what you’re thinking, you’re just a chair warmer.’”
My greatest passion: “Helping women achieve equality in the workplace. I am so fortunate to work for a company that genuinely embraces equal opportunity, but statistics show that my reality isn’t true universally.”
What others say: “Cassie is the heart and soul of our agency,” says her boss and mentor, Terri O’Brien. “She is a living example of the O’Brien culture, which is to give back, be kind to others and garner success in business through integrity.”