The 40 Under Forty class of 2017, announced recently by HCN’s sister publication, BusinessWest, is like those that came before it in that it is diverse in many ways; features a healthy mix of entrepreneurs, business professionals, and nonprofit leaders; and provides ample evidence of the size and importance of the region’s healthcare sector.
Indeed, the health and wellness community in Western Mass. is very well-represented in this year’s class, with about a quarter of the winners representing those fields in some respects.
And, like the full class of 40, the health and wellness winners are a diverse group, representing everything from large corporations (Baystate Health and Health New England, for example) to sole proprietorships, launched by entrepreneurial-minded individuals.
Here are quick snapshots of those winners, followed by a full listing of the class of 2017:
• Basia Belz, Owner and President, Vivid Hair Salon & Spa Inc.; Age 35
Belz launched her business when she was just 23, and has grown it from a sole proprietorship to a full-service salon and spa with a team of 10. She said she enjoys helping clients “see their inner beauty,” and is also committed to making a difference in the community.
Indeed, Belz is a long-time supporter of the Rays of Hope Foundation, creating pink pieces (hair extensions) for a cure. She’s also earning certification in wig fitting and maintenance to help cancer patients when they lose their hair.
She also stages what she calls Vivid Community Care Projects to raise money for various organizations and causes. “I enjoy bringing people together for a great cause and a great time,” she explained.
• Jenna Conz, Donor Outreach Manager, Baystate Health Foundation; Age 31
Conz says a career in the world of giving is a natural fit. “I grew up in a family that was really involved in the community; our family culture was giving back,” she explained, adding that this mindset has also become a career focus.
Indeed, after working in a development position at the Jimmy Fund, she transitioned to the Baystate Health Foundation, where she spent her first five years raising money for Baystate Children’s Hospital.
Since 2015, Conz has taken on the role of donor outreach manager, overseeing stewardship of foundation donors across the health system.
Active in the community, she donates time and energy to organizations like Northampton Dollars for Scholars and Easter Seals.
• Jessica Dupont, Director of Risk Adjustment, Health New England; Age 33
If Dupont’s first love is hockey — and it almost certainly is; she’s a season-ticket holder for the Thunderbirds and enjoys watching the sport at every level — her second and third (in close order) are giving back to the community and making sure health insurance works for all the parties involved.
That’s how she chose to describe her work as director of Risk Adjustment for Health New England.
“I work with the physicians in our community to make sure the care they’re delivering to the patients is properly documented and coded, so that we have accurate data to build our clinical strategies around,” she explained. “We can only build interventions, do work, and make sure we’re getting paid appropriately if we know what’s going on with our membership base.”
As for her two main passions, hockey and giving, they come together nicely at a Dress for Success fund-raiser called Hockey in Heels, staged in conjunction with the Thunderbirds, and one of many ways in which she gets involved in the community.
• Jessica Dupuis, Founder and CEO, Olive Natural Beauty; Age 28
Dupuis and her line of Olive Natural Beauty products is now one of the region’s best entrepreneurial success stories — only it’s not a regional story anymore.
Indeed, this is a national success story, one that started when Dupuis was selling cosmetics at a Boston apothecary in 2008 and began researching the ingredients on the label. She quickly became convinced she could make something better and safer, and did just that.
In 2015, Olive Natural Beauty took home first place in the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator program, and Dupuis used the prize money to ramp up and ultimately generate $250,000 in revenue by the end of that year.
“I dreamed about having my company become successful, but never thought this would happen,” she said. “It has been a very humbling experience, and I am not only proud but very grateful to the people who have helped me.”
• Jacqueline Johnson, Chief Operating Officer, Caring Health Center; Age 31
Johnson owes much of her success in life and her profession to her mother, who was only 15 when she was born. “Growing up, I saw a lot — drugs, alcohol, poverty; if it weren’t for my mom, life could have turned out very differently. She told me to go to school, work hard, and do well.”
Johnson has done all three. She started working at Springfield’s Caring Health Center when she was 21 as a HIV program director, and has worked her way up to chief operating officer. She says she never loses sight of what sustains her — the personal and professional relationships she’s made throughout her life.
“I respect them all — friends, co-workers, and, of course, the people who come through our doors every day. They all inspire me and are the reason I love coming to work every day.”
• Daniel Kennedy, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical & Administrative Sciences, Western New England University; Age 37
Professor Kennedy is one of eight founding faculty members of Western New England University’s College of Pharmacy, a dream come true for a guy who’d always wanted to teach.
“I grew up in a family of teachers, and my mom was a principal,” he explained. “You might say it was pre-scripted.”
Before joining WNEU, he taught science at Emmanuel College while completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. When he got the chance to help build a program from the ground up, he jumped at it.
“I’ve been amazed to see the growth and maturity of the students,” he said. “Seeing them develop is really rewarding.”
He says it’s now rare to go into an area pharmacy and not run into a student or graduate.
• Leah Kenney, Physician Assistant, Spa on the Green; Age 39
While studying to be a physician assistant, Leah Kenney planned to go into pediatric plastic surgery, fixing cleft palates and birth defects. But when she trained with Dr. Glen Brooks, she was intrigued by the wide range of cosmetic procedures and the way they changed lives in ways big and small.
“I love the diversity of being involved in short, sweet cosmetic cases, and then big, involved cases,” she said. “Either way, you’re making life better for the patient.”
Making life better has become somewhat of a job description for Kenney, who has built a strong niche in cosmetic injections, fillers, and laser work.
And her passion for improving lives extends to volunteer roles in the community, as well as Longmeadow Swap, a Facebook page through which users send each other toys and household items they are done using; it has since grown into a much larger community resource.
• Shawn Robinson, Director of Franklin/Hampshire Vocational Services, ServiceNet; Age 34
At age 12, Robinson was recruited into the Berkshire Coalition to Prevent Pregnancy. At age 15, he wrote an application for and won a grant from the United Way to launch a free Culture Camp for young people that he ran with his peers.
“I’ve always had a deep sense of wanting to make a difference,” he explained. “I want to do anything I can to help the community.”
That sentiment explains his involvement with groups ranging from Big Brothers Big Sisters to Highland Valley Elder Services, and it also helps explain his current role with ServiceNet, as director of Franklin/Hampshire Vocational Services.
In that role, he oversees Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield, which today employs 70 people with developmental disabilities, autism, or brain injuries. They raise chickens, sell eggs, manage one of the state’s largest log-grown shiitake-mushroom operations, build and sell work products, and operate catering and community landscaping services.
That’s just one of many ways he’s making a difference.
• Meghan Holl Shaw, Owner and Instructor, MEGAdance; Age 32
Megan Shaw has been passionate about dance and fitness her whole life, so about eight years ago, she started teaching Zumba. Noting that her classes at the YMCA were always packed, she took a leap in 2012 and launched her own fitness business, MEGAdance, which she characterizes as a “high-energy dance party workout.”
She started in a church basement with eight students; today, she’s in a much larger facility in Greenfield, where her classes typically draw 40 to 50 people.
“MEGAdance is a place where people of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and fitness abilities work out, dance, and have fun without fear of judgment,” she explained. “I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is celebrated, supported, and encouraged to be themselves and express their own rhythm in class and in life.”