Fitzsimons Innovation
Community Celebrates Women

A talk with April Giles, Vice President of Business Development.

By: Fitzsimons Innovation Community

The first time April Giles, Vice President of Business Development for Fitzsimons Innovation Community, spent real time on the University of Colorado School of Medicine campus she was in elementary school. At the time, her mom was one of three women in her medical school class and the only student in the program who had young children. Giles and her sister would often spend time in the halls of the university doing homework or exploring while their mom was in class or clinic. When we talked with Giles about Women’s History Month and how she is shaping leadership and strategy at Fitzsimons Innovation Community, she was quick to bring up that her mom had set an early example of what it looks like for women to push boundaries, break barriers, and pursue their dreams.

After starting her career in social work, Giles joined the board of regents office at CU as an executive assistant just as plans were coming together for the campus to move from Denver proper to its current home in Aurora. As her career with the university progressed, she began working with federal funding agencies, bringing them to campus to showcase investment and grant opportunities. This work gave her a big-picture view of the effects of the campus transition and a deep understanding of what the future could look like, not just for the medical school, but for the life sciences industry in Aurora and in Colorado.

From her work at the university, Giles made the move from academia to the business side of life sciences and started with Colorado BioScience Association (CBSA) as director of operations, eventually becoming president and CEO. Working at CBSA gave her a front row seat to what was happening in health and science innovation across the state and made her a natural fit to lead the growth of Fitzsimons Innovation Community. Since 2018, Giles has been shaping business development, strategy, and growth right here on the Fitzsimons campus.

Giles has been inspired by many women and champions of women in her career. From watching her mom follow her dream while her dad worked multiple jobs to help make it a reality, to the leaders she’s worked with in the life sciences sector, she’s learned that having strong advocates is one of the most important aspects of success.

One inspiring advocate she mentioned specifically as a major influence is Denise Brown, whom Giles worked with at CBSA. To Giles, Brown was a leader who always maintained a high level of integrity, had clear values, was warm and genuine, and was an expert at rallying a team for a common cause. Brown taught Giles the value of being herself in every aspect of her career. “Women leaders are often expected to be tough, but Denise was the first woman leader I worked with who wore her heart on her sleeve. She was always true to her character and was the same person in the boardroom as she was when spending time with her grandkids,” Giles said. “Denise taught me that leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and that real leadership isn’t a title, it’s how a person engages with others and hears their perspectives.”

With such an impressive career trajectory in health sciences, we wanted to ask Giles about what advice she has for other women leaders. Her answer: Share your ideas. “My instinct has often been to keep my ideas to myself and analyze them, but what I’ve learned is that as soon as you have an idea, you should share it. The more people who can see your vision, the more it starts to accelerate and become their vision, too.”

Giles stresses that taking advantage of the power of teamwork and groupthink drives common goals. Alternately, it can also show that certain ideas should be let go, thereby preventing unnecessary work and analysis. “I think persistence is the biggest key. Continuing to put ideas in front of people, gauging reaction, and then working forward together is one of the best ways to develop patience and adaptability in business. The power of collaboration is so important.”

It’s no coincidence that collaboration is one of the pillars of the Fitzsimons Innovation Community mission.

April Giles knows it takes hard work and grit to become a leader, especially in sectors where women are often underrepresented. She has learned along the way that finding advocates while also advocating for others is a key to success. Along with her day-to-day work at Fitzsimons, Giles is also focused on championing other women in the life sciences community, helping them to find the right resources, and creating networks that help women succeed. She is particularly interested in improving access to capital for women entrepreneurs. Giles wants to help build capacity for women to create and run great companies and knows that investment in women-owned business is the foundation for a more inclusive future.

Today, Giles’s office looks out onto the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and while it isn’t in the same place as it was when she wandered the halls as a girl, the symbolism resonates with her. As Giles put it, “Life has a habit of building on the experiences you have and circling back in ways you can never predict.” 

The staff and Community members at Fitzsimons Innovation Community are so grateful that April Giles’s experiences came full circle right here.