Some of the most amazing individuals call Denver home. This month, we strive to recognize women who have built a name for themselves through hard work and initiative—and woven the threads of their passions through the fabric of our neighborhood. We’ve gathered together noteworthy female entrepreneurs, food & wine experts, creatives and advocates to celebrate their success. While this list is in no particular order and by no means exhaustive, we hope that as you read on, you’ll feel inspired, connected and empowered.
Laura Schmalstieg - Creative Director & Brand Strategist
Laura is a creative director, brand-builder, photographer and entrepreneur who spends her days in a beloved late-1800s Victorian. She finds joy in connecting the dots between the people, places, and of course, tones that she loves. You can follow along with her daily musings and extensive collection of gingham at @lauraschmalstieg.
What keeps her motivated: “Possibility. The age-old phrase ‘don’t give your hopes up’ has never sat right with me. I have a regenerating supply of hopes – therefore, I think it’s essential to ‘give them up’ in order to believe in yourself and expand what’s possible.”
Caitlyn Schwarz - Conifer
Caitlyn is the owner of Conifer, an intentional home goods brick-and-mortar shop featuring handmade goods in the RiNo neighborhood of Denver. Colorado has been her home for nearly half her life, but she originally grew up in Texas and spent her summers lakeside in Montana. Together with her parents, they built all of the fixtures in her shop; it was important to her that Conifer felt like coming home and all of their fixtures tell a story as well just like the makers they stock, e.g., shop tables are built from salvaged wood from her family’s Montana lake house dock, the register is made of Montana Douglas fir, and the fitting room was built with Colorado beetle kill pine. For Caitlyn, Conifer is more than curated beautiful objects, it’s really about the stories that inspire the craft and the people behind them.
Personal motto: “Quality over quantity."
Stephanie LaFlora - Crownhunt
After being rejected for service at hair salons due to her 4C textured hair, Stephanie realized that something was terribly wrong with the beauty industry. Driven to solve the problems of her own customer experience and already a serial entrepreneur, storyteller, marketer and creator, Stephanie founded Crownhunt to make life easier for people with curly hair while helping under-resourced entrepreneurs thrive. Stephanie has spent the last decade building multi-sided platforms and working with partners to develop new business models using her background in data-driven product development and strategy. To that end, Crownhunt is a digital marketplace for textured hair, built to help existing hair entrepreneurs reach the 65% of the population with textured hair and to get their products, services and education to the right people, more effectively. While Stephanie is a seriously driven entrepreneur, she’s also a troublemaker at heart and serious about having fun. When she’s not building her start-up, she’s often mentoring other aspiring women entrepreneurs by showing them that life is one big adventure worth betting on.
What she’d tell her younger self: “I’ve always been wild and free. When I was younger, I was worried that these traits would get me into trouble. As an adult, I understand that my willingness to take risks and ask for forgiveness over permission is a superpower. I would tell my younger self to stay bold, stay curious and to believe every dream I can imagine.”
Food & Wine
Lulu Clair - Duo Mio and Redeemer Pizza
Born in Los Angeles and raised in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, Lulu embarked on her entrepreneurial journey at the youthful age of 18, immersing herself in the vibrant world of the music industry back in 2007. After graduating high school, LuLu founded a socially conscious event production company and artist collective called Souls In Action, which led her to help independent artists learn the ins and outs of business and produce large fundraising events. With an unyielding commitment to her craft, she swiftly transitioned from artist management to event and festival production, collaborating with industry heavyweights like the Warped Tour and Red Bull Sound Select. She eventually took on the role of festival director and head talent buyer for Denver's Underground Music Showcase. Although she has since stepped back from the music industry, she continues to consult and direct talent buying for the festival.
Along the way, her journey intertwined with renowned chef Spencer White, sparking the creation of the celebrated Dio Mio in 2016—a culinary haven on Larimer Street that has earned a spot in 5280 magazine's Top 25 Restaurants six times since its inception. Lulu's prowess encompassed not only operations and marketing but also ownership alongside Spencer and visionary Alex Figura. Their innovative spirit continued to flourish in 2021 with the birth of Redeemer Pizza, a tribute to naturally leavened NY-style pizza that has quickly become a staple in the heart of Denver’s popular RiNo neighborhood. Lulu's entrepreneurial skill set spans experiential marketing, savvy talent curation and the nuanced domains of restaurant ownership and operations. Rooted in her unwavering dedication, creativity and entrepreneurial finesse, her journey also echoes her profound passion for community and bringing people together.
Personal motto: “The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of not doing what you love, for the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
Julia Duncan-Roitman - Joyhill Denver
Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Julia is the co-owner of Joy Hill Pizza Club. Her service industry experience has taken her from behind the counter at Subway sandwiches at age 14 to behind the bar at New York City nightclubs. Julia has a passion for the complexity of the restaurant business, the artistry of food and beverage, creating memorable spaces and experiences for guests and the importance of establishing a healthy workplace culture for employees. Joy Hill's focus is artisanal wood-fired sourdough pizzas made with heirloom wheat.
What she’d tell her younger self: “Don't dilute your life force for anyone. Focus on what you love and what makes you special. Listen to yourself, trust yourself and love yourself.”
Natascha Hess - Ginger Pig
Chef Natascha was born and raised in Connecticut. She played hockey her entire life, going on to play at the University of Wisconsin, where she double majored in Chinese and International Relations. For three summers during college, Natascha went to China to live with a host family, where she fell in love with Chinese cooking and Asian street food. She moved to Denver with her husband, Steve, to help launch Fox Sports Rocky Mountain television station, then returned to school at the University of Denver, this time to study law. She practiced law for several years, even starting her own firm, before deciding to follow her passion for cooking and Asian food. She opened The Ginger Pig Food Truck in Boulder County in the summer of 2016, which led to the opening of an inaugural stall in Rosetta Hall–Boulder’s first food hall–in 2019. Taking that success and knowledge, she went on to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Berkeley Neighborhood of Denver in 2020. Since then, Ginger Pig has offered authentic family-style pan-Asian cuisine to the people of Denver and Boulder.
What she’d tell her younger self: “Self-care is the most important and beneficial thing to do with your time and energy.”
Matti Øverland Berglund - Artist
Matti grew up in Oslo, Norway, where folklore is a cultural centerpiece. Growing up, her parents owned and operated a clothing store and her mother was a skillful seamstress. Matti was often driven to create her own wares—sometimes out of bed linens or old jackets. Inspired by the world around her, she found her way to Denver, CO, where she truly found her calling as an artist, receiving her BA in Fine Arts from the University of Denver. Since then, Matti has raised three children, traveled the world and lived in various places across the U.S. and Scandinavia, always with a paintbrush in hand. Her artwork now lives in the homes of countries near and far and continues to ebb and flow with the dynamic nature of inspiration, techniques and symbolism. Matti’s artwork is a reflection of her boundless curiosity, unfettered self-expression and passion for all things beautiful.
What keeps her motivated: “I can’t choose it, it comes like magic.”
Melissa Keosann - LOV’D
Melissa is the creative force behind LOV’D, a unique venture that beautifully blends her passion for fashion and personalized styling. As the founder and curator, Melissa has carved out a niche in the world of vintage denim, offering an array of carefully selected pieces that exude timeless style. Her expertise lies not only in the curation of these pieces but also in her exceptional ability to provide one-on-one vintage denim fitting experiences. With an innate understanding of the challenges many face in finding the perfect fit, Melissa has honed a distinctive talent for helping her clients discover denim that not only fits flawlessly but also captures their individuality. At LOV’D, Melissa's approach goes beyond selling clothing; it's about crafting transformative experiences for her clientele. Her dedication to creating a comfortable and enjoyable environment shines through in every fitting session. Whether you're seeking a classic look or a contemporary twist, Melissa's keen eye for fashion and her personalized touch promise an unforgettable journey in finding the ideal vintage denim pieces. LOV’D isn't just a business; it's a testament to Melissa's commitment to redefining the shopping experience and leaving a lasting impact on those who seek both style and a sense of belonging.
What she’d tell her younger self: “Don’t get caught up in the details. Just start, even if it’s not perfect or you’re not sure what you’re doing. The details will work themselves out.”
Tran Nguyen-Wills - Senior Outreach Manager for Office of Denver Mayor Mike Johnston
As the daughter of working-class refugees from Vietnam born and raised in Denver, a homeless teen to teen parent to struggling young parents to a small business owner who paved their own way, she understands the importance and power of community. Her lived experiences have given her a unique perspective as she’s championed diversity and engagement in community building, creating safe spaces and fighting for a more equitable world for all. Over the past 20+ years, she’s worked at, managed and owned several small businesses focused on supporting communities across the city of Denver. This includes retail/restaurant concepts, art galleries, home goods, a national non-toxic nail salon brand called Base Coat and today as a senior community outreach manager appointed by Denver Mayor Mike Johnston. Working with the community, non-profits, small businesses, activists and creatives has been the unifying red thread across all of her varied endeavors. Regardless of her job title or position, her focus has always been on making impactful changes for our community, advocating and giving back to the community.
Personal motto: “To always lead by example and show up no matter what, even when things are hard and uncomfortable.”
Jami Duffy - Youth on Record
Jami is a locally and nationally recognized thought leader and innovator in company culture, creative youth development, the global impact of art-making, public policy advocacy, music ecosystems and inclusive leadership. She is the longtime executive director of Youth on Record, a Colorado Creative Youth Development nonprofit organization, and the first female co-manager of the Underground Music Showcase, Denver’s Largest Music Festival. Jami joined Youth on Record as executive director in 2009 and has since provided the strategic vision and fundraising expertise that has led to consistent growth and national brand recognition for the organization. She spearheaded a $2M capital campaign to build YOR’s state-of-the-art Youth Media Studio in west Denver and has grown the organization by 2,000+% during her tenure. Her strategic vision and “maverick” nonprofit leadership are pushing the boundaries for what’s possible in the sector.
What keeps her motivated: “Curiosity, to me, is the cornerstone for impact, and an antidote to feeling resigned that you can't make your life and your community better. I'm curious about almost everything—no topic is too big or small to pique my interest.”
Cora Lee Poole - Undestructable
Cora first dreamt up the concept for Undestructable 16 years ago as she sat in a sewing room while working on her BFA in Apparel Design. After spending 9 years in the industry, witnessing, experiencing and fighting racism, sexism, ableism and more, she decided to take a massive leap to follow her true dream of starting a nonprofit. A dream of creating a space where she could bring all her personal and professional lived experiences into one spot working with survivors. Undestructable began as a tiny seed planted in passion for supporting survivors of intimate partner violence and a dream of sustainability from a post-consumer perspective. Cora feels there is a systemic belief in our country that all things are disposable and says it spans from hard goods to human beings; she wants this to change. She feels that we all have unique journeys that translate into superpowers. Her superpower lies at the intersectionality of abuse, feminism, creativity, design and desire to create social and environmental change. She challenges others to step into their authentic self by harnessing the power of their journey and using it for good. As a survivor and leader, she is always working to help people rediscover their value and define their purpose.
What she’d tell her younger self: “Everything you have already experienced and have yet to experience will shape you into who you and the world need. So, don't wait for someone else to empower you, because they can just as easily disempower you. Your power already lives within you, and nobody can take that away.”
Paula DuPré Pesman - CEO/Founder & Film Producer
Paula launched her film career as an associate producer on the producing teams of such narrative features as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rent, Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone 2, and Stepmom. In 2004, she founded the non-profit There With Care to provide essential daily support to families and children facing a life-threatening illness. Now in its 18th year since inception, There With Care has served more than 10,000 families in three states, bringing them community and care in a medical crisis. Since 2004, she produced the renowned documentary features The Cove (Academy Award 2010), Chasing Ice (Cinematography Award Sundance, Emmy Award, Audience Award SXSW 2012), Keep On Keepin’ On (Audience Award Tribeca Film Festival, IDFA, Palm Springs Film Festival 2014), Quincy (Toronto Film Festival and Grammy Award Winner 2019), and My Sister Liv (BIFF Audience Award). Paula has other several feature documentaries in production including The Kelly Slater Documentary and The Untitled Artist Project. She was named Producer of the Year, 2010, by the Producers Guild of America. For her philanthropic work, she was named a Local Hero by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine for her work as founder and CEO of the non-profit There With Care, providing essential support for families and children facing critical illness.
What keeps her motivated: “The families we serve go through so much and they don’t have a choice, but to push ahead to get through their crisis. Knowing what we are doing to support them is truly helpful, and that others in the community care about them, that fills my heart.”
Elaina Shively - Garnett Powell Maximon Barlow
Elaina’s success in and out of the courtroom is characterized by her empathic and kind, yet strong and effective advocacy. She has always been driven to solve problems and to stand up for others. In May 2023, she joined the new law firm of Garnett Powell Maximon & Barlow and is dedicated to trauma-informed, compassionate, and zealous advocacy for her clients. Elaina is well-respected in the legal field and community and in June 2023, was awarded the Champion of Democracy Award by the Boulder County Democratic Party.
Whether she is representing a crime victim, helping someone who has made a mistake and is charged with a crime, or ushering a business through complex litigation, Elaina understands the impact that underlying incidents and pending cases have on clients and their families. The legal field has a lot of work to do to improve how people are treated, and Elaina has a special interest in serving victims of sexual assault and serious traffic crashes as well as elevating professionalism and trauma-informed practices across the legal field.
What keeps her motivated: “I love to work hard and play hard. I hope to model to my kids how I use my voice and skills to empower and stand up for myself and for others. I want to leave things better than I found them, whether camping with my family or fighting injustice in our community. It’s my honor to stand with people in their toughest times and I am motivated to create change in the legal field by providing effective and trauma-informed legal representation.”