Jake Jabs’ $10M Gift to ‘Transform’ CU-Denver Business School

5/2/13Follow @MichaelXBD

Here’s a story that might make Colorado entrepreneurs chuckle, until they realize what it could mean for them.

Zany furniture pitchman Jake Jabs—yes, that Jake Jabs—has donated a record $10 million to the University of Colorado-Denver’s business school, CU Denver announced Wednesday.

Jabs is the founder and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse, a chain of discount furniture stores in Colorado. While he’s best known in the state for his goofy commercials that seem to appear during every single ad break, he’s an accomplished entrepreneur. Since 1975, he has made American Furniture Warehouse into one of the most successful businesses in the state. The company had $350 million in sales in 2012, and its revenue usually is enough to put it in the Top 10 list of biggest private companies in Colorado.

CU Denver is putting his “transformative gift” to serious use in ways that could help educate and support a lot of entrepreneurs.

The donation will help CU Denver “greatly expand the curriculum and academic offerings,” said Madhavan Parthasarathy, a professor and director of the newly christened Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.

“The reason he gave us the grant was because we share the same vision of expanding entrepreneurship, not just in Colorado but beyond,” Parthasarathy said.

It will help CU Denver expand its business plan challenge, build new facilities for the business school, and fund new endowments for a professorship, faculty research, programming, and operations, the university said in a statement.

One priority is to enable students from across the university to benefit, whether they’re dental students with an eye toward building a practice or programmers who want to help their careers by learning to think more like an entrepreneur.

The money will be used to expand the school’s business plan competition as well. Currently, it’s open to students or alumni from CU, but the plan for the 2014 competition is to open it to universities around the state and Mountain West.

Jabs’ donation will help increase the prize money and expand the marketing and administration efforts needed for regional expansion, Parthasarathy said.

CU Denver’s business plan challenge was founded in 2002 and was run by the school’s Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, which is being renamed. It distributes more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind support, and the winner takes home $10,000, according to the school.

About 75 companies start the competition, with around 50 submitting full plans. Companies in a variety of industries compete, and in recent years app developers, web commerce retailers, and medical device companies have done pretty well.

In 2012, AppIt Ventures and Beautifuli.com tied for first place. AppIt develops low cost apps that help users create business and marketing plans, while Beautifuli.com is an online retailer for eco-luxury fashion, beauty, and home items.

This year’s event is culminates in a final round of presentations scheduled for June 18. Between 250 and 300 typically attend the finals, Parthasarathy said.

Finding benefactors and donors to support entrepreneurship programs is a challenge for universities, as Xconomist Brad Bernthal recently wrote. Bernthal is a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and launched its New Venture Challenge, which recently completed its fifth edition.

Jabs’ donation is almost twice as large as any other cash donation to CU Denver. The university has raised $20 million for the business school in the past two years.

 

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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  • bradbernthal

    This is a remarkable gift. This size provides leverage to change an institution’s long term trajectory. Congratulations to MP and CU-Denver. Jake’s gift should move the meter for entrepreneurs in Denver for years to come.