Doug Elenowitz (MBA’02)
Co-founder, Trailbreak Partners
While coming up with a name for his latest real estate venture, Doug Elenowitz drew inspiration from his love of the Colorado outdoors.
Elenowitz and Jordan Scharg, his co-founder and principal, share a love of camping, skiing, mountain bike riding and hiking, which led them to the name Trailbreak Partners.
“If you’re breaking trail, you're leading the pack,” Elenowitz said. “You need to be willing to take a little bit of risk, but in a disciplined way. Those were the characteristics that resonated with what we wanted to do as investors. We want be thoughtful and prepared and intentional as we manage risk.”
Denver-based Trailbreak Partners is a niche private equity investment firm focused on the development and acquisition of infill real estate, as well as opportunistic investments in middle market operating companies. It draws upon expertise in urban real estate to develop and invest in desirable commercial properties.
Beyond investor relations and corporate culture, which are both important to him, Elenowitz said he’s interested in the organization’s legacy and impact. “As somebody who’s been here now 22 years, I want the projects we take on to have meaningful impacts in the communities in which we’re doing work,” he said.
When he relocated to Colorado from Atlanta, one of the first things Elenowitz did was to enroll in the Leeds MBA—partly because he was trying to break into real estate investment and development with a science background, and partly to build a network in his new home. In fact, he still hits the trails with professionals he met in his cohort.
“My MBA was the foundation for my feeling grounded and connected to Colorado, both professionally and personally,” he said. “To this day, I still have really strong relationships with people in organizations that I met through CU.”
Trailbreak Partners isn’t Elenowitz’s first foray into business ownership—he jumped in shortly after completing his MBA. Leeds, he said, encouraged him to explore entrepreneurship, a passion he discovered as a boy.
“When I was at CU, there were two areas where I spent my time—entrepreneurship, where I was active in the venture capital investment competition, and real estate,” he said. “It’s interesting that 20 years later, my career has gone full circle, and now I get the luxury of making real estate investment development decisions and investing in operating companies while co-owning a business.”
Emily Abed (Mktg’21)
Account Development Representative, Arrow Electronics
Ask most recent college graduates what their long-term goals are, and you’ll hear about career advancement, professional development, maybe finding ways to give back through their education.
You’ll get the same from Emily Abed, but first, she’ll tell you about her lifelong aspiration to be on “CNN Heroes.”
“I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and giving back,” said Abed, who recently started at Centennial-based Arrow Electronics. “It’s what made me so excited about CESR—learning that business can actually be sustainable, because there are people who want to do good through business.”
CESR—the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at Leeds—is where Abed found a home after transferring from the University of Colorado’s Colorado Springs campus. A soccer player who captained the club team, she originally thought about a career in sports management, but coming to Leeds awakened her passions for marketing and entrepreneurship, which were further developed at internships with startups Sacred Cycle and The Jackfruit Company.
“At Sacred Cycle, I was really inspired to create my own nonprofit, and Leeds helped me work out a business plan,” Abed said of Community, a platform for connecting nonprofits with helpers that she expects could one day compete with VolunteerMatch.
Right now, she’s busy becoming part of the team at Arrow, but she hopes to push forward with Community—she’s received some seed funding and is getting mentorship from Prof. Brad Werner to flesh out the idea. For the moment, she’s appreciating the opportunity to learn at a bigger company.
“Arrow is giving me the chance to learn new things every single day,” she said. “I went from sports to consumer goods to technology: Four years ago, I didn’t think about a career in the technology industry. But the more I explored and learned during my internships, the more I realized it’s where I want to be.”
She’s doing so while continuing to stay active in nonprofits—including a seat on the board of Sock It To ‘Em, which collects and donates socks to the homeless—and chasing her ultimate goal of being a CNN Hero.
“I think I have the potential and I know I have the motivation,” Abed said, laughing. “It’s just a matter of continuing what I’m doing and staying true to my passion for giving back.”
Lane Levine (MechEngr’21)
Lane Levine sees the world differently than a typical engineer.
He’s good at identifying problems and possible solutions, but he also has a strong sense of what makes an idea practical—a combination he attributes to the business minor he earned at Leeds.
“The people in business who I collaborate with have wild ideas, which is great—but many of those ideas don't make sense, engineering-wise,” he said. “On the other hand, engineers often get to the point where they have a full product, but never stopped to consider whether there’s market demand. That's what’s great about the business minor—that I can combine those two things and actually make something feasible.”
Something feasible, in this case, is ReachRak, an accessible roof rack designed to improve storage in compact vehicles. Levine, who earned his business minor to go along with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, earned top honors in a capstone pitch competition judged by community leaders and entrepreneurs.
An avid skier who also played ice hockey at CU, Levine said ReachRak was born from personal frustration.
“I would get to the mountain, get on my boots and everything, and then forget to pull down my skis from the top of the car,” he said. “And then it’s hard to get your skis down without slipping.”
The solution—a telescoping rack that folds down to the side of the car, allowing chest-height access to rooftop storage. He’s now doing some provisional patenting on the idea with the hope of moving forward with the idea as a side hustle as he pursues his dream of working in the automobile industry.
Levine pursued the business minor for its emphasis on entrepreneurship, a key point of distinction for the university and Boulder. Choosing the University of Colorado, he said, came down to “the chance to be in a positive environment, to do things that can benefit the world—that’s what brought me to CU as well as Leeds.”
It’s a perspective he’s eager to bring to the real world.
“No matter your major, having a business minor is perfect, because it prepares you for any job,” said Levine, whose own career search has begun in earnest now that the capstone competition has concluded. “Having this broad knowledge of how the business world works will be very beneficial to me, both as an engineer and, hopefully, an entrepreneur.”
Victor Bjorlow (Fin, Mktg’20, MFin’21 )
Though he’s completed two degrees at Leeds already, Victor Bjorlow isn’t done with his education.
But he’s not returning to a University of Colorado classroom. Instead, he’s off to Q School.
Aspiring pro golfers must complete the grueling European Tour Qualifying School in order to join the continental equivalent of the PGA Tour. It’s an unusual career route for someone with two finance degrees, but Bjorlow—a five-year star on the golf team—said he expects his education will be an asset whether or not he qualifies for a major tour.
“Golf is important to me, but I have this passion for finance, as well,” said Bjorlow, who focused on investment in his graduate studies. “After three or four years, I want to reflect on how the golf is going and, if it’s time for a change, be able to move into finance.”
Bjorlow was able to explore his passion for finance in further depth because of the pandemic. As a result of the golf season shutting down last spring, the NCAA awarded an extra year of eligibility to athletes; the native of Hellerup, Denmark, eventually decided to take advantage of the extra year to get his master’s, but nearly wound up returning to his home in Spain instead.
“It was just the shock of one day you’re playing, and the next, the season’s canceled,” Bjorlow said. “And I felt like I had more to learn, especially in terms of how to apply everything I’d been taught. Being able to take the master’s was everything I’d hoped for.”
It’s perhaps a surprising turnaround for Bjorlow, whose father is in finance but who arrived in Boulder five years ago without a defined academic direction. He enrolled in the Pre-Business Program, working diligently to gain admission into Leeds and becoming a strong student who was named to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll as a senior—all while continuing to improve on the golf course.
It’s a great start, but Bjorlow knows there’s more to do to achieve his PGA Tour dream.
“There was so much uncertainty last year—I’m just grateful that I made the right decision to stay at CU, to be able to focus on golf and school,” he said. “Whatever happens next, my lessons from the golf course and classroom will both be important going forward.”
Shannon Cox Baker (MBA’07)
Founder and Managing Partner, Rivet Development Partners
Most MBAs can vividly recall where they were when they got their acceptance offer.
Shannon Cox Baker is no different. After doing her phone interview from an internet café in Chile, Cox Baker headed into the mountains with her husband. Upon returning to civilization a week or so later, she got the news that she was in.
That story may be a little different from a typical Leeds MBA, but her motivation for enrolling was not.
“I wanted to make a difference in the world, and it occurred to me that I could make the biggest difference by working in a mission-driven organization through the private sector,” she said.
Leeds, she said, immediately felt like home, and while she enrolled in the MBA sight unseen, she’s been in Boulder ever since.
“It was a very forward-looking program,” Cox Baker said. “My MBA was the first time I realized I was not the only one who was interested sustainability—I was surrounded by a cohort that wanted to make an impact in the environment, in social equity or a related area.”
Today, Cox Baker is the founder and managing partner of Rivet Development Partners, a boutique developer with a focus on social equity. Her goals are to expand beyond affordable housing to include mixed-use development opportunities for small-scale commercial and retail tenants.
Her success in merging real estate innovation and entrepreneurship was helped by her studies at Leeds, which included a lot of time with the CU Real Estate Center and the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. But her current work also was shaped by what she considers the most fulfilling part of her career—building housing for the homeless while at Boulder Housing Partners, the housing authority for the city’s government, just after completing her MBA.
“I got to work on one of the most contentious development projects in Boulder’s history, because it was the first development for the homeless in Boulder,” she said. “It was intimidating and stressful, but exciting, and it left me wanting to do more of this. My goal for Rivet is to become the go-to company that creates physical spaces for those who are underrepresented.”
Megan Griffith (Acct, Fin’23)
Founder, Luxury Redesigned
You might not expect an aspiring accountant to have a flair for fashion, but Megan Griffith can count stitches as well as beans.
Griffith got her accounting sense from her parents, who both studied the discipline, but her fashion sense comes from her grandmother, who had a beautiful collection of handbags. Scrolling through her social media feed on her phone one day last summer, she saw a denim jacket that had bits of designer bags sewn into it.
The price was out of her reach. The concept was not.
“The more I looked into it and researched the idea, the more I saw an opportunity not only to repurpose designer bags, but to take unusable ones and give them a second life as part of a unique design,” Griffith said. “So the bags I buy have broken zippers or handles, but they become part of a jacket or keychain that becomes a designer item at a lower price point.”
Griffith, a California native, wanted to study in Colorado to be close to family — she’s the eldest of four siblings — while exploring the area her father grew up in. She credits the unique Leeds ecosystem with helping her advance Luxury Redesigned, even as she serves as a peer mentor, holds a leadership role in Pi Beta Phi and is part of the selective Leeds Scholars Program.
“Leeds gives you all the resources you need to have the confidence to take the first step into something you want to do, and not be afraid to fail,” she said.
And while she expects her future to focus on accounting, Griffith is happy she’s at least found a fun side hustle.
“Finding such a love for entrepreneurship has been a big surprise,” she said. “The more I learn, the more it seems like a great opportunity for me to grow. Whether that’s with Luxury Redesigned or something else, it’s definitely a possible route for my future.”
Dean Sharon Matusik
She’s now in her fifth year as dean of Leeds, so Prof. Sharon Matusik has seen plenty of talented classes graduate into a world that craves the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative insights business students bring to the table.
And she has the same high expectations for this year’s graduates.
The Class of 2021 faces unique challenges as it goes out into the world, but Dean Matusik is confident that Leeds graduates have the skills—and determination—to succeed. She said students should remember that uncertainty is nothing new, and that the path forward after graduation is unclear even in the best of times.
“Remember to look for and create opportunities around you,” she said. “You are well-equipped to think entrepreneurially and to discover, create and act when an opportunity presents itself. Saying ‘yes’ these opportunities may also take you to places you may not have otherwise imagined.”
In fact, imagination and creativity—both hallmarks of entrepreneurial thinking, a major differentiator of the Leeds experience—are two qualities Dean Matusik has seen a lot of from the Class of 2021.
“I have been privileged to see countless examples where you have shown creative problem-solving, humility, empathy, community mindedness and grit during the pandemic,” she said. “It makes me incredibly optimistic for our future and for your personal success.”
When they look back on their last year at Leeds, graduates will probably remember the many unique challenges they faced, but, “while I certainly hope you draw strength from all that you have overcome, I hope you also remember all of your engagement with our community—from your peers to the many mentors, faculty, staff and business leaders who care deeply about you and your future,” she said.
As they go out into the world in such unusual times, Dean Matusik said she wants graduates to reflect on who they want to be and how their unique strengths can help them get there—professionally, but also personally.
“Know, too, when you are not able to be strong and need to ask for help,” she said. “Let that inform your empathy for others when they face difficulties in their lives.”
Ananya Tyagi (Fin’21)
When Ananya Tyagi accepted her admission offer to Leeds, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted out of her career, but hoped to find new perspectives to guide her search.
In doing so, she helped other students get new perspectives, also.
Tyagi said her service as vice chair on the school’s Distinguished Speakers Board, which brings public figures to campus to share thoughts with the Leeds community, was one of her most valuable experiences as a student.
“It was a chance to think about the current social climate, what's happening in the world and how students at CU feel about it,” she said. “It was a pretty diverse board, so we all had a voice for different pockets of the school.”
Among the speakers the group invited during her tenure were astronaut Scott Kelly, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, and actress and producer Viola Davis, who “was just as inspirational and motivational behind the scenes as she was in her talk,” Tyagi said.
Tyagi was president of her high school’s FBLA chapter, so knew she wanted to study business in college. “I saw Leeds as a place I could get a business education and do anything with it, whether that’s work for a nonprofit, go to grad school or get into tech,” she said.
Four years later, each of those options remains on the table. She’ll be returning to professional services firm RSM as a technology consulting associate, following a virtual internship last summer; she’s earned a minor in computer science to go with her business degree. But she expects she’ll pursue graduate school in the future, and her Leeds experience has her thinking about working in the nonprofit or entrepreneurship spaces in the long term.
“In the computer science part of my education, I learned to code,” she said. “The business part of my degree is where I learned the creativity to think about how that code can solve larger problems. That’s what I’m hoping to do in my career.”
Eyob Abai (Fin, Mgmt’21)
Eyob Abai puts authenticity among the most important attributes a professional can have.
So, when asked for his proudest accomplishment from his internship with McKinsey & Co., Abai offered an authentic answer.
“On my first day, I looked at the scope of the project and thought, there’s no way I’m going to fully understand this,” Abai said. “But on my last day, I was so surprised at what I had accomplished. I’m genuinely proud that I took ownership during my internship to get the most out of the experience.”
McKinsey clearly liked what they saw, too. Abai accepted an offer from the management consulting powerhouse to return as a business analyst after graduation.
“I’m most excited to join McKinsey for the opportunity to explore,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to use a lot of the soft skills I’ve gained at Leeds—how to navigate dynamic situations, how to maintain a positive work ethic, how to have conversations with different groups of people.”
That’s not just his work in the classroom, either. Abai’s on-campus involvement is staggering: Leeds Student Government president and senior analyst with Leeds Consulting Group, plus involvement with the Multicultural Business Students Association, Alpha Kappa Psi, the Leeds Honors Program and Diverse Scholars Program.
A common theme of his involvement, as a first-generation college student, is how to bring diversity, inclusion and equity to the forefront of the conversation.
“The business world serves a wide variety of people, and so only having one subset of individuals represent those interests is not going to cut it,” Abai said. “And you can bring in different kinds of people, but you’re not going to be effective unless they actually feel included.”
Some initiatives he’s proud of from his time at Leeds include testifying before the Colorado Legislature on a bill to remove standardized test requirements in schools and organizing Leeds Student Government around five guiding principles, like career readiness and mental health, to improve the student experience.
“I didn’t know just how good Leeds was until I got here,” Abai said. “As soon as I came to CU, I appreciated being able to engage in conversations—with peers and in classes—that pushed my train of thought and diversity of thought.”
Shannon Flahive (MBA'21)
Shannon Flahive’s career was off to the races from the moment she graduated from Harvard University.
Even as her classmates struggled to find work in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, she immediately started what became a 10-year consulting career working with the Fortune 100 in Boston and New York.
At a certain point, though, the corporate treadmill felt like a conveyor belt, as she shuttled between opportunities without a strategic sense of her future.
Moving back to her home of Colorado—and enrolling in the full-time Leeds MBA program—was the inspiration she needed.
“The Leeds MBA was really a chance to provide myself with a space to think creatively about what I might want to do next, because I had a really tough time doing that while also working,” she said.
Over the course of her two-year program, Flahive took courses in new venture creation and launch, with Profs. Brad Werner and Jeff York, and completed two internships with local venture capital firms. Those experiences gave her a taste for the excitement of startup culture.
“As much as I enjoyed the projects I did with big companies, the future of the global economy is going to depend on how well we can get capital to folks with really creative and innovative ideas that can drive change on a huge scale,” she said.
Flahive’s extensive corporate experience made her a natural fit to be president of the MBA Association. Not only that, she was director of finance for the Deming Center Venture Fund, where she worked with a cross-disciplinary team of students, faculty and experts. The fund supports promising early-stage companies in the Boulder area.
“I joined the Deming Center in my first couple of months, and it solidified for me that this was the path I wanted to take,” said Flahive, who got an internship at Blackhorn Ventures through a Deming Center relationship. A second, with Service Provider Capital, started with an introduction from a professor.
Working in the local business community affirmed her belief that returning to Colorado was the right professional move.
“I love the energy of Boulder and Leeds — the program and the city attract a certain kind of professional, and I was able to develop this great network from my cohort, my professors and the community,” she said. “I’m very passionate about doing work that benefits the local ecosystem.”
Emma Spaulding (Mktg’21)
Emma Spaulding accepted her dream offer, but she doesn't know her boss’s name. Or where she'll be working. Or what she'll be doing.
It's all part of the journey when you accept a fellowship from Venture for America. Modeled on Teach for America, Venture for America offers two-year fellowships that challenge recent college grads to help drive economic mobility in underserved U.S. cities by working at startups; Spaulding is now determining where, exactly, she’ll work.
Like many of her classmates, Spaulding applied to a variety of organizations as she sought employment in a job market still bearing the scars of the pandemic. Securing the Venture for America fellowship has the feel of a distinctly Leeds story: She’ll graduate with a certificate in Social Responsibility & Ethics, “which gave me new perspectives on business and influenced where I want to end up in my career — and the type of company I want to work for,” she said. “I would not be going the Venture for America route if not for SRE and Leeds.”
In an internship with PFD Group, a consulting firm, Spaulding was part of an entrepreneurial team that worked with executives to shape their long-term company vision, showing her what it takes to run a business. “I was able to discover what I’m passionate about, and meet incredible mentors who will help me get to where I want to be,” she said.
Spaulding’s passion for service is authentic. She volunteers with Service for Sight as a sister in Delta Gamma, and when she learned about pandemic-related teaching shortages in her Telluride, CO, hometown, she became a substitute teacher.
“A lot of teachers were understandably afraid to be in the classroom, but I already had antibodies to COVID-19, so I saw substituting as a way to make a difference during winter break,” Spaulding said. “It was unlike anything I’ve done before.”
That comfort jumping into new experiences will be key as she prepares for the next stage of her life, which may one day involve a startup of her own.
“I’m really excited to see where I end up fitting into the mission for Venture for America,” Spaulding said. “I want to apply the skills I’ve learned at Leeds in a way that impacts not just the bottom line, but the community the business operates in and the people they serve.”