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Jake Jabs pledges $10 million toward entrepreneurship center, largest gift in CU Denver history

The University of Colorado Denver Business School is poised to dramatically expand its entrepreneurship education, research, programmatic reach, and caliber—thanks to a $10 million pledge by Jake Jabs, founder and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse, to CU Denver.

With this gift, the newly renamed Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship will expand its annual Business Plan competition\ to encompass universities throughout Colorado and the West. It will enable the build-out of a named marquee space for the new Business School building. It will fund new endowments for a professorship, faculty research, programming and operations.

In sum, Jabs’ gift will strengthen all aspects of the entrepreneurship center, foster connections between entrepreneurs and students region-wide, and bolster the center’s stature as it progresses toward becoming one of the top academic entrepreneurship centers in the nation.

Jabs’s gift is nearly double the total of the largest prior cash commitment to CU Denver, and leads a wave of more than $20 million in private support toward the CU Denver Business School within two years.

“Jake Jabs is a highly accomplished and well-regarded businessman who has done a considerable amount for Colorado and the Denver community,” CU President Bruce Benson said. “His contribution to the Business School will help CU Denver nurture the next generation of business leaders and deepen our connections with the Denver business community.”

Jabs has supported an entrepreneurship center at Montana State University in addition to numerous charities. He chose to make this transformative gift to CU Denver’s Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, where he has guest-lectured on occasion, as part of his broader personal goals of celebrating entrepreneurial values, and of raising the bar to keep American university graduates competitive in a global marketplace.

“What motivated me to get more involved with CU, frankly, is Madhavan Parthasarathy, said Jabs, referring to the center’s director, a CU Denver associate professor of marketing. “We think a lot alike. We both come from humble beginnings. We believe in living below our means. We have quite a bit in common, in terms of our philosophy of life.”

Parthasarathy, who has known Jabs for seven years, thinks the gift’s most immediate and visible impact will be on the annual Business Plan Competition; the 2013 competition will culminate June 18. “The goal is to get as many students involved as possible, whether within the Business School, or in engineering, music, or other fields,” Parthasarathy said. “Next year, the business plan competition will be open to a much broader range of schools, which will give our center a real regional impact.

Until the last 30 years, few American universities had formal entrepreneurship programs. Since the 1980s, there has been increased prevalence and interest in entrepreneurship education, responding to the notion that in a highly competitive landscape, the launch of new businesses (and innovation of existing ones) requires more than just vision. Entrepreneurship also requires fluency with business planning, financing, regulation, and other systemic factors that are taught and nurtured in an academic setting, in conjunction with exposure to start-up companies, family businesses, and small business operations.

CU Denver launched its entrepreneurship center in 1996 with an initial gift by Richard H. and Pamela S. Bard. In the 17 years since, more than 2,500 CU Denver students have participated in programs including more than a dozen courses, the business plan competition, speaker series, and a business incubator among other activities. Several growing Colorado businesses got their start thanks to this center, including Elevated Third, Viktorian Guitars, and Nokero.

“Jake Jabs’ story and vision will inspire many future entrepreneurs at the Center,” Richard Bard said. “Pam and I feel honored to have launched this entrepreneurship program for CU Denver, and we know it has had a positive impact for both the students and the state in transforming ideas into economic results.”

Jake Jabs is an appropriate namesake for an entrepreneurship center in the heart of the Rocky Mountain region. Jabs was born one of nine children in an immigrant family in a small, hardscrabble Montana ranch town, and through military service and early business experiences operating a music store, he developed an ethic of hard work and a respect for the start-up spirit.

From the vestiges of a defunct furniture business, Jabs started American Furniture Warehouse in 1975. Throughout 38 years of sustained business growth, Jabs has become a recognized icon throughout Colorado, sometimes appearing in advertisements with a live tiger on his lap. Today, American Furniture Warehouse has 12 Colorado stores, $350 million in annual sales, and plans for out-of-state expansion.

The Business School at the University of Colorado Denver is the largest graduate school of business in the Rocky Mountain region. The Business School educates more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students who come from around the world to study in one of its 12 degree tracks and industry-focused programs such as Entrepreneurship, Commodities, Health Administration, Risk Management and Insurance, and Global Energy Management. The newly remodeled building supports the school’s collaborative culture, embodies its commitment to environmental sustainability, and facilitates partnerships with industry and the community.

Jabs’s gift is one of more than 275,000 gifts made during Creating Futures, a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign to enhance University of Colorado education, research, outreach, and health programs benefiting citizens throughout and beyond Colorado. Visit cufund.org for more information.