The city of San Antonio downtown skyline.
Downtown San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

The San Antonio Business Journal released its annual “40 Under 40” list. The weekly publication recognizes local leaders who contribute to the community in different ways, and look to keep doing so.

This year’s award winners will be honored at a Feb. 11 reception at the Norris Conference Center in Balcones Heights. The Rivard Report caught up with a few of the new “40 Under 40” honorees.

Rey Saldaña is serving his third term as the City Council member for District 4. The lifelong San Antonian’s journey from graduating from South San High School to studying at Stanford University on a scholarship has been well documented. At Stanford, he earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and communication, as well as a master’s degree in policy, organization, and leadership studies.

Not quite 30, Saldaña has been an advocate for improving infrastructure and economic development in his district, and for decreasing truancy rates particularly in inner city school districts. He is also the chief engagement officer for KIPP San Antonio, part of a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools operating in underserved communities.

Saldaña said being part of the “40 Under 40” list gives him and fellow City officials a chance to invite other community leaders to be further involved with various issues facing San Antonio.

“It means that there are at least 39 people I need to get to know to help shape our city’s future. The list is as diverse as there are challenges in our city, and it’s an honor to be with a group of folks who are fighting to advance a movement of ideas, solutions, and legacies in their respective areas,” he added.

As 2016 begins, Saldaña said he looks forward to working with his Council colleagues toward helping individuals, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, to have better access to quality education, jobs, transit and technology.

“I have been privileged to be where I am because people and institutions have provided me with opportunities to be successful. Access to improved and efficient transportation, access to quality and affordable housing close to job centers, and access to high quality education with a focus on school board governance in my neighborhoods will round out my year,” he said. “Opening up the city’s largest park and eliminating the stray animal issue in my district are also on the horizon.”

Saldana is referring to a 2012 bond-supported improvement project that will make Pearsall Park the city’s largest public park by fall 2016.

John Burnam is a principal at Burnam Gray, a fledgling firm that helps nonprofits and other organizations with communications, fundraising and program execution. Burnam has in the last few years become fascinated with how agencies big and small seek to positively impact the local community.

Burnam Consulting was established in 2013, and has since ballooned with clients such as Santikos Theatres, the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, and the Nonprofit Council. Carrie Gray came on as a co-founder, and the consulting business was set up as Burnam Gray last summer.

“The honor is awesome. I’m super excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for me and the business to network and meet the different people who are benefiting the community,” said Burnam. “It’s up to us to learn how to use this opportunity to build bridges, make connections and grow this city more.”

One of Burnam Gray’s biggest clients is The Big Give S.A., an annual event in which hundreds of area nonprofits raise money within 24 hours. This year’s Big Give S.A. will be on May 3. A kickoff is scheduled for January 14th at Santikos Palladium IMAX.

“We have a $6 million goal, and would like to have 1,000 nonprofits participate,” he said. “We’ll talk about training and tool kits at the kickoff. This year’s event will be a challenge.”

Shelly Alvarez is president and founder of Shelly Alvarez Insurance and Financial Services, a full service agency that opened in 2008. Alvarez has years in the mortgage industry and as a commercial investment broker. She also has volunteered citywide, and is president for Texas Young Professionals-San Antonio (TYP).

Alvarez said she’s grateful to receive an honor that has been bestowed previously on the likes of David Robinson and Graham Weston. She added 2016 will be a big year for her business, which recently launched a new website that will allow visitors to receive quotes and apply for life insurance online.

“This is a huge deal for us, as everything has always been done manually. We really want to keep up with technology and make it simpler for anyone to obtain insurance,” she said. Aside from being active statewide, her company has launched operations in California and Florida, with plans to expand nationwide by the year’s end.

“Life insurance can be a scary topic, so our goal is to make this as simple and convenient as possible. We’re educated in complex issues, too, so we can help almost everyone,” she said. Meanwhile, TYP looks to grow its membership and event offerings.

“I want the young, professional community to have a strong resource like TYP where they can turn for many things. It has been so great to give back to the community in this way,” Alvarez added.

Andy Castillo and Gilbert Morales, who lead the South San Main Street Project, both made the “40 Under 40” list. A chance meeting between Castillo and Morales a few years ago furthered their mutual interest in seeing the West Southcross neighborhood become an economically, socially sustainable area.

By collaborating with area businesses, community groups and schools, the project has helped to realize goals such as urban gardening and an outdoor free movie series, complete with free refreshments. The project is also working to raise awareness of the need for a community computer lab, to improve online access for residents, and for more infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks and parallel parking lanes. The latter, the two men hope, will be funded through the City’s 2017 bond proposal.

“Being on the ’40 Under 40? shows what we’re doing on Southcross is different and unique,” Morales said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our efforts and to talk about infrastructure.”

“We’re always trying to do the right thing and help a community that’s underserved. I’m glad that’s being recognized,” Castillo said, adding that historic preservation is key in their neighborhood.

The project is becoming a nonprofit to better serve the community, which according to the two men was its own town with a mayor and a courthouse before World War II and annexation by San Antonio.

“If you look past the buildings here, there’s potential for more business and pedestrian activities,” Morales added.

Lisa Pinto has gone from a local television news reporter/fill-in anchor to assistant vice president of marketing and public relations at SWBC. She said being on the “40 Under 40” list is a thrill to share with 39 other individuals.

“To me, this honor means that I’m on the right track – giving back to the community in various roles and doing the best I can in my position,” she said. “SWBC nominated me for the award and that means a lot to me. They believe in me and support me in everything I do both at work and in the community.”

Brenda Davila is business development director for Magi Real Estate, the city’s largest owner/operator of office space with more than 1 million square feet of leasing space.

“I look forward to growing these relationships in 2016 and will continue to work closely with small business owners and those looking for office leasing opportunities for their company,” she said. “I plan to partner with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this year to provide a Lunch and Learn to small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level and what they need to know when leasing an office space.”

Dylan McNally,moved to San Antonio within the last year to work for CodeUp. McNally saw his previous job at a Houston-based international policy think tank engaging and stimulating, but hailing from a family of small business owners, he wanted to build something from the ground up.

“San Antonio’s burgeoning tech and startup scene caught my eye, and relocating here has absolutely exceeded my expectations,” said McNally, CodeUp’s operations director. “The local tech and entrepreneurship communities have been incredibly welcoming and accessible, and this award is another excellent example of that hospitality.”

McNally embraces the City’s history, culture and potential. He’s also a fellow with Venture for America (VFA), which places aspiring entrepreneurs at high-growth organizations across the U.S. He hopes more millennials like himself will see San Antonio as receptive to their professional and personal interests.

Brianne Kaiser is pharmacokinetic department manager for the START Center for Cancer Care. She has served that role for 13 years, since she was at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center, The START Center’s original parent organization.

“The honor is very flattering and gives me motivation to keep doing the work I’m doing,” said Kaiser, referring to how her department processes and ships all samples for Phase I and II clinical trials conducted at START. She said the honor bestowed to anyone in the local medical industry shows how strong and vital healthcare is in San Antonio.

“All the research benefits so many. It feels like we have patients who come from everywhere, looking for options, treatments or just support,” she added.

Drs. Jonathan Crews and Ruchi Kaushik, who teach as assistant professors, both made the list from The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio/Baylor College of Medicine. Crews is the physician leader of the hospital’s infection control and prevention department. Kaushik is the medical director for the ComP-CaN (Comprehensive Peds for Complex Needs) program.

“This honor is a testament to the hard work being done by so many at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to advance the medical care of children in San Antonio and Central/South Texas,” Crews said. “The pediatric physicians at our hospital are committed to meet the medical needs of children in our community – from prevention to treatment and from routine to complex.”

Kaushik said she looked forward to continuing the program work, which gives her and colleagues a chance to enhance patients’ lives.

“I’m very honored, surprised and delighted,” Kaushik said. “Children don’t have a vote. We pediatricians are in a position to be an advocate for them.”

Additionally, she hopes to expand upon the community-based resources used to support ComP-CaN when assistance is needed.

Crews said he hopes this year to further strengthen and expand his organization’s infection control and prevention program.

The 2016 “40 Under 40” list includes:
*Al Arreola, CEO, Southside Chamber of Commerce
*Somer Baburek, CEO, Claresta Solutions
*Justin Barbour, partner, Schmoyer Reinhard
*Andrew Baumgardner, partner, Jackson Walker
*Hilary Bell, partner, Bell & Angerer
*Kevin Crawford, broker, Crawford Luxury
*Tyler Davies, senior client services analyst, Sendero Wealth Management
*Stephanie Dick, vice president, The Bank of San Antonio
*Eloy Flores, research and development manager, Southwest Research Institute
*Ajay Gupta, CEO, Stirista
*Jorge Herrera, attorney, The Herrera Law Firm
*Christopher Hodge, shareholder, Langley & Banack
*Paul Hvass, senior research engineer, Southwest Research Institute
*Lee Imbimbo, managing principal, Michael Imbimbo Inc.
*Jeff Japhet, president, Japhet Builders
*John Keeton, wealth adviser, Covenant
*Jeremy Kenisky, director of 3-D/interactive, Geomedia Inc.
*Jiletta Kubena, assistant professor/criminology and criminal justice department chair, Our Lady of the Lake University
*Helen Loring Dear, president, Porter Loring Mortuary
*Kirk Mask, partner, Williams, Crow, Mask
*Ronald McGinnis, senior research scientist, Southwest Research Institute
*Eduardo Parra, principal, E J Parra Cos.
*Rahul Patel, managing partner, Patel | Gaines
*Nathan Roach, CEO, Mass Venture
*Clayton Thomas, president, Thomas Holland
*Stewart Wedge, CEO, Camp Our Way
*Natalie Wilson, associate, Langley & Banack
*George Wommack, CEO, Petro Waste Environmental
*Leslie Work, branch manager, Frontier Title Co.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.