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Top 10 Denver Startups of All Time

The original Chipotle on East Evans Avenue.

Chipotle Founder Steve Ells poses in front of the Dolly Madison that would become his first restaurant in Denver.

Women make fishhooks and tackle in Wright & McGill's startup days.

Quark Founder Tim Gill.

Beer Advocate has ranked Great Divide among the top 10 breweries on the planet.

The Shwayder brothers stand on one of their suitcases in the early days of Samsonite.

Gates Rubber essentially invented the modern serpentine belt in Denver.

Brian Dunn, Founder Owner of Great Divide Brewing Co.

For Denver Startup Week, we pondered a question: What are the greatest startups to ever call Denver home? From burritos and suitcases to software and fishhooks, here are Confluence's picks.
In the 2010s, the mention of the word 'startup' typically conjures visions of bespectacled technical wizards working on the next great app. But when you flip through the history of Denver startups, you find the digital alongside the visceral -- from luggage and beer to design software and IT security. These 10 companies were all once Denver-based startups, and all of them rose to become titans in their fields, both yesterday and today.

Great Divide Brewing Co.

Flying Dog is long gone, Breckenridge is moving south, and no up-and-comers yet can claim the title of being ranked among the top 10 breweries worldwide by Beer Advocate like Great Divide can. When Brian Dunn founded the brewery in the Arapahoe Square area in 1994, punk bands practiced in back rooms of the brewery, a tradition that continued until a 2007 expansion. Today the company is looking to build a new $38 million brewery in RiNo.

Gates Rubber Company

Charles Gates bought the Denver company that would become one of the world's largest rubber manufacturers for $3,500 in 1911. The company invented what is essentially the modern serpentine belt in 1917 and has been the world's dominant manufacturer of the product ever since, with its headquarters still in Denver, although its former factory on South Broadway has seen better days.

Quark Quark Founder Tim Gill.

Denver philanthropist Tim Gill started the desktop publishing innovator in 1981 with a $2,000 from his parents. A decade later, Quark had a 90-plus percent market share with its flagship QuarkXpress product. Today Gill's eponymous foundation advocates for LBGT equality from the Ballpark neighborhood.

Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI)

Born from a 1968 merger, the cable juggernaut was based in southeast Denver in its startup days and beyond. Acquired by AT&T in 1999, it was the largest cable operator in the country at one time.


Since Dr. Wayne Guerra and Dr. Peter Hudson founded the company in 2008, LoDo-based iTriage has had nearly 10 million downloads of its app. Its 2011 acquisition by Aetna represented the first major exit of a local med-tech 2.0 startup.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Steve Ells opened restaurant #1 on East Evans Avenue in 1993. Now headquartered in LoDo, Chipotle has over 1,400 locations globally -- and every store features a picture of that first Denver location -- with revenues north of $250 million. That's a lot of burritos.


While it closed its Denver factory and moved its headquarters from the city in 2001, Samsonite employed more than 4,000 people in Denver at its peak. The company was a startup in Denver in 1910 as the Schwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company. Founder Jesse Schwayder named an early product after the Bible's Samson, and the rest is luggage history.

Never Summer Industries

Founded by brothers Tracey and Tim Canaday in 1991 and in Denver since 1993, Never Summer makes more than 25,000 snowboards a year at its plant in northeast Denver. The company has about 150 employees and is one of the most notable innovators in the snowboarding world, while also making skis for brands like Icelantic and its own line of skateboards.

Ping Identity

Not a startup anymore, Ping Identity is the country's dominant cloud-security provider, founded by CEO Andre Durand in 2006. As of 2013, it's the largest IT security firm in the country, just raked in $44 million in VC, and likely looking at an IPO in the near future.

Founder in Denver in 1925, Eagle Claw is the only domestic manufacturer of fishhooks in the country.Wright & McGill Co.

The makers of Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle are the only domestic manufacturer of fishhooks in the U.S. Today the company makes hooks in its northeast Denver factory, but when it was in startup mode after its 1925 founding, it operated out of facilities downtown and near Colfax and York.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Eric Peterson with tips and leads for future stories at eric@confluence-denver.com.
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