Forty Under Forty
These movers, shakers, and changemakers have two things in common: They’re young and they’re driven.
Thanks to a combination of talent and determination—plus a little luck—these 40 risk-takers are leaders in their fields. They are shaking things up by inventing new products, questioning the tried and true, and following their passions. Another thing they all have in common? They have yet to hit the big 4-0. That, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Joel Flory / Greg Sommer / Abe Gupta / Sarah Appel / Lindsay Snyder / Dave Smith / Dawn Silva Rigney / Amber Silva / Andy Chang / Mackenzie Lesher / Jenny Schwarz / Catherine Ndungu-Case / Oscar Celma / Beckie Wood / Alan Connealy / Scott Silverstein / Lisa Sasaki / Lizzie Coyle / Lana Krol / Dhanur Grandhi / Bryan Petro / Alice Baldridge / Jasmin Bhukkarat / Brandon Schneider / Natalie Alvanez / Benjamin Hamlin / Maya Tobias / Morgan Cox / Brandon Cardwell / Walker Young / Renee DeWeese / Rena Wilson / Clifford Lee / Mattie Cooper / Tim O’Rourke / Kristen Go / Gina Kinzley / Caley Shoemaker / Kathryn Tomajan / Ryan Cowles
VSCO Cam cofounders Joel Flory and Greg Lutze started off simply wanting photography products that better served the needs of artists.
Flory, who grew up in San Leandro, started out shooting album covers, portraits, and weddings during college. As a professional photographer, he met fellow VSCO cofounder Lutze, a creative director.
In 2011, they launched Visual Supply Company, or VSCO, to create blog templates for photographers. By November, they were selling VSCO Film: installable settings for photo-editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. (The resulting photos mimic the look of analog film.)
What they didn’t foresee was that VSCO Cam, an app they launched roughly five months later, would become a worldwide hit and an Instagram rival, with millions of downloads. The app expands on the idea of VSCO Film, and lets people use high-quality filters and editing tools on their smartphones.
“VSCO Cam was advertising for VSCO Film and a way to engage with our community,” Flory says. “But literally overnight, we realized VSCO Cam was something more than we ever thought it would be.” VSCO Cam rocketed to the top of the app charts, and photos tagged with #VSCOCam flooded Instagram.
Today, VSCO also offers Grid, an in-app function that, similar to Instagram, lets you follow the feeds of your favorite photographers and publish your photos. VSCO also curates selections for Grid, often featuring relatively unknown photographers.
“We wanted to create something we’d use, something we’d believe in–not just a company, but something sustainable,” Flory says.
Though VSCO calls downtown Oakland home and has several offices throughout the United States, more than 80 percent of users are international, something Flory says is a sign of the times. And thanks to VSCO, artists have more professional pocket-sized tools to work with than ever. vsco.co/vscocam. —Lexi Pandell
CEO/cofounder, Sandstone Diagnostics
Greg Sommer knew he was taking a risk when he left his job as a research scientist at Sandia National Labs to start a biotech company in a garage with a few friends. The gamble paid off. Three years later, Sommer is the CEO of Sandstone Diagnostics, a technology company that creates consumer health-care products. Its first product, Trak—a male fertility test kit that lets men analyze their sperm count from the comfort of home—will be available next year. sandstonediagnostics.com. —Stacey Kennelly
especially in the Tri-Valley.”—Greg Sommer
Vice Mayor, Dublin
Abe Gupta wears a lot of hats. The Danville native is a partner at a San Ramon–based law firm and teaches at San Francisco Law School, but he’s most passionate about his land preservation work with the city of Dublin. As vice mayor, Gupta has helped save 1,500 acres in Doolan Canyon, between Dublin and Livermore, from development. Gupta is the youngest elected official in Ala-meda County and the San Ramon Valley’s first politician of South Asian descent. ci.dublin.ca.us. —Peter Crooks
Owner/Publisher, Horse & Style Magazine/Cofounder, Mini Britches
Lives/works: Walnut Creek
In 2011, horse enthusiast Sarah Appel launched Horse & Style Magazine, hoping to create a brand that fused an equestrian lifestyle and show jumping. Now, she oversees every aspect of the national magazine, including editorial content and design, as well as its website and social media. A mother of two little girls, Appel is also the cofounder of Mini Britches, an equestrian-inspired baby and toddler clothing line. horseandstylemag.com, minibritches.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Cofounder/CMO, Previously Owned by a Gay Man
Lindsay Snyder runs Previously Owned by a Gay Man, an online marketplace that sells fabulous new and previously owned home furnishings. She is involved with everything from marketing and technology to finance and “taping the box shut before it ships to your door,” she says. The company recently won the Best Video of the Year award in the Internet Retailer Excellence Awards. previouslyownedbyagayman.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Vice President/Head Distiller, St. George Spirits
A self-described “general antagonist,” Dave Smith leads his team in developing and producing the craft spirits at St. George Spirits. Last year, the distillery’s Single Malt Whiskey was named craft whiskey of the year by Whisky Advocate, and St. George was recognized as the best craft whiskey producer in the world by Whisky Magazine. stgeorgespirits.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
Co-Owners, Kinsley James Couture Bridal
Ages: Both 30
Live: Dublin, Danville
Work: Walnut Creek
It all started with a wedding. When Amber Silva (pictured right) got married, she gained a sister-in-law, Dawn Silva Rigney. They both worked in the events industry and shared lofty dreams.
When they were just 24 years old, the sisters-in-law launched the event-planning company A Touch of Grace. But they quickly realized the East Bay lacked salons that carried the couture dresses most in demand. So the pair decided to open a high-end bridal shop in downtown Walnut Creek.
They transformed a blank space on Mt. Diablo Boulevard into Kinsley James Couture Bridal, and tapped into their wedding network and social media to get brides in the door.
Two and a half years later, Silva and Silva Rigney have dressed more than 2,000 brides from as far away as Australia and Canada, in gowns costing $2,000 to $15,000.
“Work your butt off, and do not settle,” says Silva Rigney. kinsleyjames.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Director of Management Services, Sunset Development Company/Bishop Ranch
Works: San Ramon
Andy Chang is the director of management services at San Ramon’s Bishop Ranch, which will soon see the addition of an urban city center. Chang has contributed to a number of sustainable initiatives, including drought-tolerant landscaping that saves 4.5 million gallons of water each year, an environmentally friendly cleaning program, and transitioning the business park into one of the largest LEED–accredited projects in the nation. bishopranch.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Owner, The Spotted Cow
Lives/works: Walnut Creek
Supervolunteer and small business owner Mackenzie Lesher (you can find her curating inventory or setting up the showroom at her vintage store, The Spotted Cow, in Walnut Creek) has chaired fundraisers for the Diablo Regional Arts Association, serves as a trustee for The Seven Hills School, and was the president of the Junior League of Oakland–East Bay. Last year, she and her husband cochaired the committee that organized a year of events for Walnut Creek’s centennial celebration. spottedcowvintage.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
Co-owner/General Manager/Beverage Director, Hopscotch
Three years ago, Jenny Schwarz and her longtime friend, chef Kyle Itani, launched Hopscotch, a Japanese-inspired American diner. It has since been called one of “America’s Best Diners” by Food & Wine magazine, and applauded as one of the top 100 Bay Area restaurants by San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer. Schwarz manages the staff and crafts the restaurant’s cocktail menu, but her passions also extend outside the restaurant. She supports a number of charities, including Girls Inc. of Alameda County, ALS Therapy Development Institute, and Meals on Wheels. hopscotchoakland.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
CEO/Founder, Cheza Nami Foundation
When Kenyan immigrant Catherine Ndungu-Case gave birth to twins in 2007, she sought ways to introduce them to their cultural roots—but the Tri-Valley came up short. So Ndungu-Case founded the Cheza Nami Foundation, a nonprofit for children and adults that promotes cultural diversity and global citizenship through music, dance, and play. Now, she’s working to expand the organization’s reach to the entire Bay Area. chezanami.org. —Stacey Kennelly
Director of Research and Director of Insights and Product Programming, Pandora
Ages: 39, 33
Live: Oakland, San Francisco
At Pandora, Oscar Celma is in charge of more than a dozen scientists who teach machines to choose the right songs at the right time. Beckie Wood runs the insights team—which analyzes listener behavior—as well as the product programming team, which uses that information to improve the music-streaming service. Celma published a groundbreaking book on music recommendation and discovery in 2010, and Wood was the company’s first product analyst. pandora.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Owner, APEX Movement NorCal/Connealy Chiropractic
Works: Concord/San Francisco
Fans of the obstacle competition show American Ninja Warrior know Alan Connealy as “The Beast,” but for a number of East Bay families, he’s a different kind of superhero.
Connealy owns and runs Concord’s APEX Movement NorCal, the biggest parkour gym in Northern California. The inspiration for the parkour gym—where training focuses on getting from point A to point B most efficiently, using jumps, climbing, and leaping—came from Connealy’s Ninja Warrior training at the original APEX in Boulder, Colorado.
Since opening APEX Movement NorCal in 2013, Connealy has grown the gym into one of the most elite Ninja Warrior training facilities in the country, attracting everyone from CrossFit enthusiasts to some of the show’s top competitors. But the biggest fans are local families, who have found a place where all children—including kids with developmental delays, hyperactivity, and a tendency to wear out your typical after-school instructor—are welcome.
“We have an awesome staff,” Connealy says. “I feel like the community loves us.”
While Connealy admits that running both APEX and his chiropractic practice has forced him to put his own Ninja Warrior training on the back burner, he still managed to post the second fastest time in the show’s 2015 Venice qualifying round. apexmovementnorcal.com. —Kristen Haney
Strategic Board Member, zTailors
At 16, Scott Silverstein landed a gig at Men’s Wearhouse. He quickly became its top salesman in the country—while still in high school. Two decades later, Silverstein is still working for Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer but now in a different capacity: Silverstein is involved with the legendary businessman’s newest venture, zTailors, an online service that helps you find and summon clothing tailors on demand. Silverstein manages more than 130 employees and a national network of nearly 1,000 tailors, and spends his time fostering relationships with retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. ztailors.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Director of Audience and Civic Engagement, Oakland Museum of California
grThanks to the work of Lisa Sasaki, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is building a reputation as an after-dark hot spot. Every Friday night, food trucks, beer and wine purveyors, and local bands and DJs make the museum a weekly destination. In the two and a half years since the museum started Friday Nights @ OMCA, more than 300,000 people have attended the weekly parties. museumca.org. —Peter Crooks
Development Director and Associate Veterinarian, Lindsay Wildlife Experience
Ages: 33, 29
Live: Oakland, San Francisco
Work: Walnut Creek
For the last 60 years, the Lindsay Wildlife Experience has been treating injured wild animals rescued by those in our community. Veterinarian Lana Krol’s job is to stabilize and treat these animals until they are well enough to once again survive in the wild—but her services would not be possible without the help of Lizzie Coyle, who leads a team each year to raise $1.5 million to support the center’s educational and animal rehabilitation programs. lindsaywildlife.org. —Rachelle Cihonski
Head of product, Domino
Lives: San Francisco
Dhanur Grandhi, a renewable energy and clean techno-logy expert who has worked around the globe, is the head of product at Domino, a free concierge service for homeowners. Domino helps them find ways to reduce their carbon footprints—by going solar or buying an electric car, for example. Grandhi, who cofounded Sunible, a solar company that was acquired by Domino, works on software development, marketing, customer service, and more. mydomino.com. —Stacey Kennelly
CEO and cofounder, CorkSharing
Bryan Petro helped launch two start-ups involving smartphone apps: Get My Boat—which allows people to rent boats owned by others—and CorkSharing, which makes it easy to book tastings at nearby wineries. Get My Boat has become the largest boat-rental marketplace in the world, and CorkSharing, a much newer company, has found its way into 600 wineries in 21 countries so far. getmyboat.com, corksharing.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
Assistant professor, Saint Mary’s College of california
Alice Baldridge has been fascinated with astronomy since she was a child, when her father would wake her to track Halley’s comet in the sky.
Since graduating with degrees in geology and earth science, Baldridge has conducted mission operations for the Mars Exploration Rovers, served as a NASA postdoctoral fellow, taught Chinese schoolchildren about space exploration, and performed fieldwork around the world.
She also serves as an assistant professor at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, where she is committed to getting young women involved in the STEM fields and helping grow the school’s relatively new Environmental and Earth Science department. stmarys-ca.edu. —Stacey Kennelly
Founder, Hoppi Box
Lives/works: Walnut Creek
When Jasmin Bhukkarat became a mom a few years ago, she realized just how fast kids grow up—and how challenging it can be to keep the toy chest stocked with age-appropriate things to play with. So the corporate marketing powerhouse launched Hoppi Box, a subscription service that delivers toys every three months to doorsteps around the country. Child development experts select toys that nurture physical, social, and cognitive development in children three years old and younger. The company has partnered with the charity Room to Grow, which donates one toy to a child in need for each new subscription. hoppibox.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Senior VP of Business Development, Golden State Warriors
Brandon Schneider’s first job out of college was as an entry-level ticket sales representative for the Golden State Warriors in 2002, before they were the NBA champions we know today. Fast-forward 13 years, and the Warriors have 14,500 season-ticket holders, a paid waiting list of 17,000 people, and a consecutive sell-out streak of 134 home games. The latter is a particular point of pride for Schneider, who started a company-wide initiative to sell out games just before the streak began. warriors.com. —Peter Crooks
Vice President, Marketing and Business Development, Visit Oakland
Alvanez has led the marketing efforts for Visit Oakland—the tourism organization that’s working hard to promote the city as a place to visit, work, live, and play—since 2013. In that time, she has overseen extensive visitor research, spearheaded a Visit Oakland brand identity (#OaklandLoveIt, anyone?) and the development of a fresh website, and created a new visitor’s guide and maps. “I hope to be a part of the team that is promoting the biggest turnaround for a city—ever,” she says. visitoakland.org. —Stacey Kennelly
CEO/COO and founders, Localwise
Ages: Both 30
Live: Oakland, Berkeley
Work: Berkeley, Oakland
UC Berkeley master’s degree graduates Benjamin Hamlin and Maya Tobias founded Localwise, an online job board that helps students and community members land jobs at local businesses. So far, the service has helped more than 200 people gain employment as baristas, sales associates, and delivery drivers. localwisejobs.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Morgan Cox manages Fruitvale Fermentation Factory, The Pig and the Pickle in Concord, and Oakland’s Jingletown Jazz Room—all of which operate under the Ale Industries umbrella. He is known for his contributions to the development, design, and build out of Ale Industries’ “BioEnergy” brewery, which is the oldest and largest green production brewery in Oakland. aleindustries.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Executive director, i-GATE
In his more than four years working with Livermore startup incubator i-Gate Innovation Hub, Brandon Cardwell has helped launch six businesses that are developing products and surviving the challenging start-up phase. And they’re doing it all in the Tri-Valley.
Before joining i-Gate, Cardwell worked for the city of Livermore, and had little experience in the world of start-ups. “It was like drinking from a fire hose,” the Livermore native says of adjusting to the start-up world. “The learning curve was incredibly steep: I’ve condensed at least an MBA’s worth of knowledge into a couple years of real-world experience.”
I-Gate, which stands for Innovation for Green Advanced Transportation Excellence, is a state-funded collaboration between the city of Livermore, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. It helps foster businesses facing challenges as varied as exploring antimatter as a fuel source for interstellar propulsion, tracing food-borne illness outbreaks, and providing on-demand tutoring.
The incubator assembles mentors, reviews business pitches, recommends lawyers and accountants, and offers cloud-computing services and software programs to keep the initial cost low on the “first stop of their entrepreneurial journey,” Cardwell says. It also provides networking, office space, and guidance.
“Most founders have a technical background, so the business of starting a business is foreign to them,” he says. Cardwell, who started working full-time with i-Gate in a strategic leadership role in 2012, is also expanding i-Gate’s impact in the Tri-Valley beyond just incubating companies.
“We want to develop fertile soil for start-ups,” he says. “If we want to keep start-ups here to grow the regional economy, we need to make sure there are resources at each stage of the company’s life cycle.”
So far, his idea has worked. I-Gate is fostering 10 start-ups and a community of about 350 entrepreneurs. All six of the companies that “graduated” from i-Gate are still in the Tri-Valley. igateihub.org. —Lexi Pandell
Assistant Curator, The Ruth Bancroft Garden
Works: Walnut Creek
Walker Young’s obsession with drought-tolerant plants and his eye for design brought him to The Ruth Bancroft Garden after graduating from UCLA. The young horticulturist has become an active part of the recent face-lift and redesign, making aesthetic updates, including bed renovations and plant maintenance. He also teaches workshops at the garden, which is launching a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to build a visitor and education center. “I want to . . . solidify the Bancroft Garden’s place among the most significant public gardens in the world,” he says. ruthbancroftgarden.org. —Rachelle Cihonski
Founders/owners, Lamorinda Theatre Academy
Ages: Both 32
Live: Oakland, Walnut Creek
Three years ago, best friends Renee DeWeese and Rena Wilson opened a Lafayette studio to teach young people how to perform onstage. Today, the Lamorinda Theatre Academy trains more than 350 children and teens in voice, acting, and dance at the studio during the school year, as well as at summer classes, camps, and after-school programs at local schools. lamorindatheatreacademy.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
Assistant professor, Saint Mary’s College of California
An assistant professor at Saint Mary’s School of Education, Clifford Lee researches various modes of expression that can be used by urban youth of color and how those skills can be leveraged inside the classroom. Lee is also the scholar-in-residence at Youth Radio, an Oakland nonprofit that trains young people in digital media and technology. youthradio.org. —Stacey Kennelly
President, Scarlett Wines
Mattie Cooper is president of Alamo-based McGah Family Cellars, which was rebranded this year as Scarlett Wines, under her leadership. Cooper oversees every aspect of the winery—which is owned by the family that cofounded the Oakland Raiders—including management of the Napa Valley vineyard, marketing, and distribution. scarlettwines.com. —Stacey Kennelly
Executive Producer and Managing Editor/Digital, SFChronicle.com
Ages: 34, 39
Live: Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek
Work: San Francisco
As newspapers continue to give way to smartphones and tablets, two Contra Costa residents are on the forefront of the digital revolution.
Kristen Go and Tim O’Rourke work in the San Francisco Chronicle’s newsroom, organizing the paper’s content into a new multilayered digital portal, sfchronicle.com. Their goal is to grow the website into the go-to hub for Bay Area news consumers, and Go and O’Rourke are in charge of combining the Chronicle’s coverage with the bells, whistles, and interactivity that the Internet offers. In addition to “incubating” the Chronicle staff with new media tools, Go and O’Rourke lean on a data visualization team.
“The site is for people who might not pick up a daily paper but still want that kind of journalism,” says O’Rourke, a Clayton native who joined the Chronicle staff in 2013.
“We have all kinds of new tools just on our phones—video, Twitter, and all the social media platforms—available to help us tell stories,” says Go. sfchronicle.com. —Peter Crooks
Co–elephant manager, Oakland Zoo
Gina Kinzley loves to see the reaction she gets when she tells people she works as an elephant keeper for a living.
“Their eyes open wide, and they say, ‘Wait, you’re a what?’ ” says Kinzley, with a laugh.
Kinzley has spent the past decade working around the clock to care for M’Dunda, Donna, Lisa, and Osh, the four African elephants at the Oakland Zoo.
In addition to her job, Kinzley works to protect elephants, rhinoceroses, and other wild animals from illegal ivory trading. She has helped Speaker of the Assembly Toni G. Atkins with research and promotion of Assembly Bill 96 (named for the 96 elephants poached for ivory every day). If passed, the bill would close loopholes that prevent the enforcement of existing laws that aim to stop ivory sales.
“This career is not about money but a passion for the cause,” Kinzley says.
As noble as that sounds, Kinzley admits her work does have a downside.
“Don’t get me wrong; I have the greatest job,” she says, “but I spend a lot of time cleaning up poop.” oaklandzoo.org. —Peter Crooks
Head Distiller/General Manager, Hangar 1 Vodka
Hangar 1’s Caley Shoemaker is a self-taught chemist and spirits expert, and one of the few female distillers to helm operations for an American spirits producer. Her day-to-day duties include operating the distillery, sourcing seasonal local ingredients, and—most importantly—producing the vodka from grains and grapes. “I get to go home at the end of the day knowing that I made a product that I am proud of and want to share with everyone,” she says. hangarone.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
Founder/codirector, Eat Retreat
Olive oil aficionado Kathryn Tomajan is the founder of Eat Retreat, an annual gathering where community food leaders—everyone from chefs to beekeepers—spend the weekend cooking and sharing ideas. What started as a passion-fueled side project has evolved into a national network of innovative people in the food industry, who help each other expand their skills. eatretreat.org. —Stacey Kennelly
Founder/Producing Artistic director, “OMG, I Love That Show!” Productions
Lives/works: Walnut Creek
Growing up in Danville, Ryan Cowles wished there was a company that performed the kind of musicals he wanted to see—shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch. So Cowles, along with some friends, decided to start “OMG, I Love That Show!” Productions in 2012. Its next show, Tommy—based on the music of British rock legends The Who—plays at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts starting September 18. omgilovethatshow.com. —Peter Crooks