| Follow Us:


Top 10 Entrepreneurs in Denver History

John Hickenlooper was the first brewer to be elected as a state governor since Sam Adams in 1792.

Temple Hoyne Buell, "The Father of the Shopping Mall."

Quark Founder Tim Gill.

Jim Deters is the founder and CEO of Galvanize.

Jake Jabs is donating $10 million to CU Denver.

Steve Ells has grown Chipotle into a fast-casual empire from his first Denver location.

For the 2015 edition of Denver Startup Week, Confluence Denver highlights 10 of the city's greatest entrepreneurs of all time, from rubber barons to tech gurus.
There's something in the air, or lack of it, or maybe it's the Rocky Mountain snowmelt in the water. Denver has an entrepreneurial streak as wide as it is high.

The city's has bloomed breweries and tech startups and seen its fair share of builders and makers and movers and shakers.

In honor of Denver Startup Week and in the tradition of our 2013 Top 10 Denver Startups of All Time and 2014's Top 10 Denver Ideas, Inventions and Innovations, here's our list of 10 of the most impactful Denver entrepreneurs ever.

Linda Alvarado

After working as a groundskeeper and construction worker, Alvarado started her eponymous contracting company in 1976, started with small concrete jobs and never looked back. As president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, her company’s handiwork is all over Denver, from the Colorado Convention Center to Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Alvarado sat on the board of Norwest Bank at the ripe old age of 27 and has since served on the boards of companies like Pepsi Bottling Group and 3M, and she's also co-owner of the Colorado Rockies -- she was Major League Baseball's first Hispanic owner and second woman owner -- and a prolific philanthropist.

Temple Hoyne Buell

Renowned architect and developer of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and Cherry Hills, Buell left his stamp on modern Denver in many ways and places. He designed more than 300 buildings, including the world's first shopping mall. His original concept of the mall was ahead of its time, as an indoor-outdoor space with a central courtyard surrounded by stores and parking. Evidenced by mall redevelopments all over metro Denver, Buell's vision looks prescient nearly a century later.

Dana CrawfordDana Crawford

Crawford's fingerprints are all over LoDo. It's been 50 years since she led the charge to preserve Larimer Square, but that's just one highlight in a career that also includes landmark places like the The Oxford Hotel and Union Station. The renowned preservationist has played conscience to the city's developers and forced them to look at adaptive reuse before swinging the wrecking ball. A new book recounts her fascinating life story.

Jim Deters

Galvanize has been on a tear lately, expanding into Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder and Fort Collins and opening its second Denver location. The company's rapid pace reflects founder and CEO Deters’ caffeinated style and pedal-to-the-metal attitude as it melds coding education, venture capital and coworking in facilities all over the place. The serial entrepreneur and ChoLon owner Deters is now bringing Galvanize to Austin, where his startup streak began when he founded Ascendant in 2003.

Steve EllsSteve Ells

Chipotle Mexican Grill now serves 1.5 million customers a day worldwide. That’s a lot of burritos since Ells opened Chipotle no. 1 on East Evans Avenue in 1993. As of 2015, there are about 1,800 Chipotle locations with 45,000 employees. Ells has set out to make Pizzeria Locale the next big thing in fast-casual dining while catalyzing the conversation on responsible and sustainable sourcing for the restaurant industry.

The Gates brothers

Denver's rubber barons started the Gates Corporation when Charles Gates, Sr. bought the Colorado Tire and Leather Company in 1911. Charles brought his engineer brother, John, into the fold a few years later, and the pair revolutionized the automobile industry by making the rubber V-belt to replace the hemp rope belts that were the status quo in 1917.

The company has long since moved manufacturing out of Denver and the site of their former plant is awaiting redevelopment, but the brothers have provided an entrepreneurial template for Denver's entrepreneurial siblings of today, including the Canadays of Never Summer Industries, the Leopold Bros., the Handlers of Inspirato and Jenna Walker and Katie Thurmes of Artifact Uprising.

Tim GillTim Gill

He started Quark in Denver with a $2,000 loan from his folks in 1981. By the late 1990s, the company dominated desktop publishing, to the tune of 90 percent market share. Gill sold his stake in the company in 2000 and moved into philanthropy and LGBT activism, and Quark now focuses on XML-centric enterprise solutions, but its legacy in digital publishing is indelible.

John Hickenlooper

Wynkoop Brewing Company founder Hickenlooper brought his DIY mindset to the City and County Building and the Colorado State Capitol, but he was also a figurehead for the city's craft brewing sector and LoDo pioneer whose legacy looms large. Now that Denver has more than 50 craft breweries, it's hard to ignore that the governor helped light the fuse for today's boom.

Tom Higley

Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire Higley has six startups to his credit since the onset of the dot-com gold rush, including Service Metrics and StillSecure, and he's also a prolific startup mentor with Galvanize and Techstars and a serial angel investor. His latest project is 10.10.10, bringing 10 CEOs together for 10 days to cure 10 massive headaches for various industries in the U.S. The first, focused on healthcare, took place in Denver in early 2015.

Jake JabsJake Jabs

After a stint playing guitar for country legend Marty Robbins, Jabs sold guitars and consumer electronics before he got into the furniture business and bought a nearly bankrupt store at 58th Avenue and Bannock Street in Denver in 1975. He's since grown that single location into his American Furniture Warehouse empire with 14 stores in Colorado and Arizona, about 2,000 employees and $400 million in annual sales and his name is emblazoned on CU Denver's Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Related Content