Colorado companies may lag in the number of women in executive leadership, but in recent years, Denver has become a top spot for women business leaders in tech and one of the best cities for female entrepreneurs. This is in part due to the incredible women who are making it their priority to create a different business ecosystem — one where women, people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ+ employees thrive.
Here are nine women to watch who are at the helm of businesses, organizations and creative firms in Denver, and are making their mark in the city and across the world.
Melissa Risteff, CEO & Co-founder, Couragion
Melissa Risteff experienced the power of mentorship in her first job out of college, leading a software development project. Later in her time at GE, she worked closely with the leadership team there to learn the inner workings of an IT organization. These experiences and years as a tech hiring manager played a role in Melissa’s desire to identify, train and support a diverse STEM workforce.
As CEO of Couragion, she is leading the effort to deepen interest in tech careers, and is actively creating a future where people with marginalized identities can flourish in the field.
“I’m so proud that Couragion is redefining the perception of high priority career paths and who can succeed in them. Couragion’s work-based learning boosts underrepresented student’s intention, motivation and confidence to pursue rewarding education-to-career pathways.”
Krystal Covington, CEO & Founder, Women of Denver
After graduating from business school, Krystal Covington knew she needed to find a professional circle. Although the idea of networking events gave her anxiety, mentors and friends insisted she needed to “work on her people skills.” She decided to tackle the issue in the best way she knew how, by starting her own networking group that met in a coffee shop. After meeting dozens of attendees, she realized she had tapped into an unmet need — women in male-dominated fields who were seeking allyship and mentorship. Krystal’s coffee shop meetings planted the seeds for the career-building organization she would found in 2014, Women of Denver, now one of the largest privately held membership organizations in the city.
“My goal at Women of Denver is to be the connector, helping women find resources to build their business acumen, increase confidence and ultimately earn their worth as business leaders. Whether they choose to do that in a corporate setting or as an entrepreneur, I want them to know they can find support and information to help them thrive.”
Andrea Guendelman, CEO, Wallbreakers
Throughout her career, Andrea Guendelman has focused not just on building an inclusive and diverse workforce, but on working with companies to shift internal culture and break down barriers for Latinx and other employees of color.
Andrea’s current company, Wallbreakers, uses rigorous online bootcamps to train computer science majors from underrepresented communities for employment as engineers at progressive companies. Previously, Andrea led BeVisible Latinx, a job portal and community that connects 20,000+ Latinx students and professionals to recruiters.
Andrea attended Harvard Law School and practiced as a corporate lawyer before moving to Boulder and co-founding BeVisible. She has served as an advisor for Latinas LEAD, a project of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, and as a Board member of Visit Denver.
Katica Roy, CEO & Founder, Pipeline
Known as a “gender economist,” Katica Roy is changing the conversation on equity. With more than two decades of work in technology, health and finance, Katica brings a laser focus to her work at Pipeline, a cloud platform that supports companies in assessing and countering bias, and increasing financial performance by closing the gender equity gap.
Pipeline’s mission has long been a part of Katica’s life and values, thanks to her parents who believed in and emphasized hope and fairness.
“My personal mission is to close the gender gap once and for all, and it is rooted in my family history. I am the daughter and sister of refugees. My family escaped from Hungary after the fall of 1956 revolution. They lived in a refugee camp in Austria for nearly two months before gaining safe passage to the U.S. by President Eisenhower via Air Force One on Christmas Day 1956. This moment shaped who I am today. The moment that a powerful person used their power to stand forward on behalf of others. My personal duty is to carry that courage forward for others. And, it is why I founded Pipeline — to use the opportunities I had to make gender equity a possibility in our lifetime.”
Katica is a co-founder of the Brave Coalition, a member of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, and was a 2018 Colorado Governor’s Fellow.
Makisha Boothe, Founder, Sistahpreneurs
Makisha Boothe is the founder of Sistahpreneurs, a company focused on supporting black women-led companies in their bids to become profitable. Through programs like a sales training academy, cohorts focused on lead generation, marketing clinics and tailored business coaching, Sistahpreneurs provides collaborative and unique services for black women in Denver.
Makisha brings experience from her time as a business mentor at the Rocky Mountain Micro-Finance Institute, along with years in politics and education strategy and as a small business owner. She has been honored by the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce with the Clara Brown Award, and received the U.S. Small Business Administration Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Lizelle van Vuuren, Founder & CEO, Women Who Startup
Lizelle van Vuuren is unafraid of risk and hard work, and constantly in pursuit of her passions. Lizelle has honed skills as a graphic designer, worked in product development and marketing, and built a reputation for having strong connections and business expertise. Early on, Lizelle realized her passion was in helping startups succeed. As she attended conferences and networking events geared toward startups, Lizelle was stunned at the lack of women in these spaces. A serial entrepreneur herself, she saw a clear need for a resource that provided learning opportunities, networking and visibility for women in business. And out of that vision she founded Women Who Startup in 2013, a learning platform for early stage women entrepreneurs. She has also gone on to create the popular Women Who Startup podcast, Women Who Startup Foundation and an apparel company, Lizelle & Co.
“The impact I hope to generate with Women Who Startup, Lizelle & Co. or anything that I do is to give someone the courage to live authentically, be successful in their work and to live and love wholeheartedly.”
Jessica Newton & Tinelle “Tin” Louis, Co-founders of Black Girls Hike Global, Inc.
Black Girls Hike Global, Inc. (BGHG), co-founded by Jessica Newton and Tin Louis, is an outdoor adventure company with a mission to promote sisterhood and healthy living, and encourage women of color to enjoy the outdoors.
Motivated by a shared passion for the outdoors and a desire to do something to address the stark health disparities experienced by black women, Tin and Jess launched BGHG in 2019 after seeing the overwhelming response to “Black Girls Hike” Facebook events that created space for black women to get together on the trails. It didn’t take long for the hiking events to gain a large following across the state. The monthly hikes were intergenerational and attended by people of color eager to find a welcoming space for healing and relaxation. BGHG is now a membership based outdoor company with more than 30 chapters in the United States and abroad.
“We teach women that green activity is vital for the development and the maintenance of our being, and is a key component for self care.”
When not on the trails, Tin is the owner of the website design firm Pretty Pages and has been coding since age twelve. Jess Newton is the CEO and President of OBI Power, specializing in renewable energy project management.
Linda Alvarado, President & CEO, Alvarado Construction
Linda Alvarado has been breaking barriers since the start of her career. Born in Albuquerque, Linda worked as a laborer for a landscape firm, then as a contract administrator on construction sites. In 1976 at age 25, Linda knew she wanted to start her own construction firm and asked her parents to invest in her dream. Linda’s parents mortgaged their home so they could lend her the $2,500 to start her company, and Alvarado Construction was born. Alvarado Construction was a Fortune 500 company within years of its founding and is considered one of the fastest growing construction companies in the U.S. Since starting her company Linda has actively sought out board roles and philanthropic opportunities to support Latinx and communities of color, and made history in 1991 as the first Latinx person to co-own a major league baseball franchise, The Colorado Rockies. She has been honored twice as The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Woman of the Year, among numerous honors for her business and community leadership.