This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Jake Jabs’ celebrated donation to the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Denver.
By Sarah Soenke, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications
Ten years ago, the CEO and President of American Furniture Warehouse made a gift that transformed the University of Colorado Denver Business School, its downtown Denver campus, and the entrepreneurial community across Colorado. The $10 million donation, pledged by Jake Jabs in May 2013 and later increased to a total of $12 million in 2018, remains the largest total donation in the history of CU Denver’s downtown campus, as well as the largest single donation ever made by an individual entrepreneur to a Business School department or center.
“Jake’s gift has been instrumental to CU Denver becoming a leader in entrepreneurship education not only in Colorado, but across the country and around the world,” says Dr. Madhavan Parthasarathy, Executive Director of the Jake Jabs Center. “We’re located in one of the best states for entrepreneurs and startups, and in the heart of one of the fastest-growing cities for entrepreneurs. As proud stewards of this gift, we are able to take advantage of every opportunity to create connections between our students, local entrepreneurs, startups, and businesses to foster the experiential learning and mentorship they need to thrive.”
About half of the gift was used to help fund the construction of the Jake Jabs Event Center, a signature event and educational amenity housed on the first floor of the CU Denver Business School. The project—which also included a new Jake Jabs Center innovation suite, auditoriums, and classrooms—broke ground in October 2018 and was completed in February 2020. The other $6 million continues to provide long-term support for academic programming, events, student scholarships, research grants, and more through the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.
Originally founded in 1996 as the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, the Center started with just one graduate course and 16 students. Over the last 27 years, it has grown to offer 26 courses and serve more than 230 students every year, including undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree. The Center was renamed the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship following the gift in 2013, which helped to significantly expand and enrich its offerings. The Center now serves as both an academic department and a resource center dedicated to educating and empowering students of all backgrounds. Its academic programs, extracurriculars, and events are open to all CU Denver students, and many offerings invite Denver-area community members, as well.
“Today, I believe education is more important than ever, and every student, no matter their field, should be involved to some degree with entrepreneurial/business classes,” Jabs says.
Jabs’ gift continues to create door-opening opportunities for students, both within CU and across Colorado’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and beyond. Milestones from the Center’s last ten years include:
- The grand opening of the Jake Jabs Event Center, the Jake Jabs Center innovation suite, auditoriums, and classrooms at the CU Denver Business School;
- Hosting prominent and community-building events year-round, including Denver Startup Week sessions, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Colorado Summit, Junior Achievement’s Business Bound, and other conferences, programs, and events;
- Expanding THE CLIMB | Startup Pitch Competition to include multiple tracks, increase cash prize awards, and invite participants from other colleges and universities throughout Colorado to compete;
- Developing and launching the new Master’s in Entrepreneurship degree program, the first and only one of its kind in Colorado, in Fall 2023;
- Developing and launching a cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial fellows program and summer incubator program;
- Increasing accessibility and affordability to Colorado’s underserved students to learn entrepreneurship by awarding more than 500 scholarships totaling $280,000; and
- Supporting faculty research—exploring topics such as the factors that affect the survival of eBay ventures and how the gender wage gap impacts female entrepreneurship—by offering summer research grants every year to Business School and multidisciplinary teams totaling $178,000.
“Every day, my team and I are inspired by Jake to take risks, have integrity, and always be working passionately toward a larger goal,” Parthasarathy says. “For us, that is to foster innovation, inspiration, and entrepreneurial success for our students across the CU Denver campus.”
At the age of 92, Jabs remains actively involved in the Center’s events, programs, and courses and proves to be a favorite guest speaker among students. His infallible work ethic and championship of the entrepreneurial mindset (see his “39 Keys to Business Success”) continue to make him a fitting namesake for an entrepreneurship center in one of the country’s top entrepreneurial cities. Born and raised in rural Montana as the son of immigrant parents from Russia and Poland, Jabs began his entrepreneurial career in guitar sales. He later moved into the furniture business and bought the American Furniture Company (later renamed American Furniture Warehouse) in 1975. Since then, the self-taught businessman has navigated 48 years of sustained business growth and has become one of Colorado’s most successful entrepreneurs.
The Jake Jabs Center is excited to mark the 10th anniversary of Jake Jabs’ gift with the launch of its Master’s in Entrepreneurship program this fall. The degree is designed to maximize affordability, customization, and experiential learning for students of all career paths, whether they want to launch their own business or create growth at an existing startup or organization.
Students can choose any 10 courses in entrepreneurship (with no prerequisites or required classes) that align with their interests, professional goals, and knowledge gaps. The degree offers flexibility through both online and in-person courses, and with its stackable structure, it can be completed as quickly as one year or within five years. Plus, all students, regardless of residency, pay the same in-state tuition rate, bringing the average total cost of the degree to below $25,000.
It is only with the invaluable support, counsel, and generosity of Jake Jabs that the Center is able to innovate and launch cutting-edge academic programs such as this. His gift continues to not only impact CU Denver and its important work but also empower students’ entrepreneurial success for decades to come.
To learn more and apply by July 15, please visit business.ucdenver.edu/ms/entrepreneurship.
About the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship
The Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship (JJCE) is a multidisciplinary resource center located in the University of Colorado Denver Business School. Emphasizing real-world experience, JJCE is dedicated to educating and empowering undergraduate and graduate students to think and act entrepreneurially. Through its academics, extracurricular programs, and events, the Center provides door-opening networking and mentorship opportunities for students of all backgrounds, whether they go on to launch their own startups or join existing organizations. For more information about the Jake Jabs Center, visit jakejabscenter.org.
About the University of Colorado Denver Business School
The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) Business School, located in the heart of a vibrant city, is a hub of business education, innovation, and discovery. As the largest accredited graduate school of business in the Rocky Mountain region, we prepare students with the relevant skill sets to immediately bring value to business. For more information about the CU Denver Business School, visit business.ucdenver.edu.