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Top Entrepreneur Finalist: Helen Young Hayes

Founder and CEO | Activate Workforce Solutions, Denver

April 14, 2022
By ColoradoBiz Staff

Helen Young Hayes, 59, founded Activate in 2016 after a long and storied career as a fund manager and chief investment officer. “I spent 20 years on Wall Street, most of that at Janus, and retired from the financial industry,” she says.

Then, after a 10-plus-year hiatus, she started Activate, a registered nonprofit, to help “end poverty for Coloradans.”

Now 11 employees, Activate takes a different approach to human resources that’s rooted in Hayes’ life story. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. as refugees from China. “In one generation, they were able to rebuild and take advantage of everything that is so wonderful about the U.S.,” Hayes says. “I feel I am a product of the American dream — I am the American dream.”

Growing up in Starkville, Mississippi — where Hayes’ school desegregated when she was in third grade — “left a big desire in me to help bridge the gap for people who are living outside of the mainstream of society and the economy,” she says. “I wanted to make the American dream more of a reality for more Americans. It seems un-American to me that poverty should be a life sentence.”

Hayes says Activate’s approach benefits both employers and employees. “We’re going to help find [employers] great talent that they’re normally going to overlook in traditional HR hiring practices,” she says.

Often immigrants, candidates are “hungry, humble and smart, but tended to be overlooked in the marketplace,” Hayes says. “We pick people who, on average, are making less than $13,000 a year. Their income typically triples to $45,000 a year.”

Activate has placed 175 people in full-time jobs since late 2016, and Hayes hopes to place 200 in 2022 and more than 1,000 in its next five years.

While she was grateful for her career in finance, Hayes says, “I have to say that it really pales in comparison to the satisfaction of changing a life, changing a family, changing many lives, changing many families.”


Activate Workforce Solutions
Activate Workforce Solutions is made up of purposeful and pragmatic recruiters and coaches that activate the potential of talented individuals. It is an employer-centric and people-focused recruiting and coaching firm, creating equitable paths for people seeking careers and employers seeking talent.