Leading organizations large and small were recognized for business excellence and community impact today at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Business Awards, presented by Colorado Business Bank.
“These are leaders in the business and nonprofit community who are leading-edge thinkers, collaborators and change-makers,” said Denver Metro Chamber President and CEO Kelly Brough. “We thank all of our finalists and winners for making Colorado a great place to live and do business.”
Meet the winners:
Gleam Car Wash aims be more than just a place you take your car to get cleaned. “We could just have a car wash,” said Owner of Gleam Car Wash Emilie Baratta. But the 18-month-old northwest Denver company is a community place with a commitment to being ecofriendly in everything that they do.
Gleam Car Wash recaptures 90 percent of the water that they use in their tunnel. They use only 15 gallons of drinking water, compared to the 100 gallons a typical car wash uses.
“We live in the neighborhood, so it’s very important to us that Gleam Car Wash be reflective of the neighborhood personality and spirit,” Baratta said. “We’ve created about 35 well-paying jobs in our neighborhood.”
Part of Gleam’s employee hiring model is a social equity hiring process where they recruit, train and hire individuals with cognitive disabilities. Some of their employees haven’t had experience working in a car wash before, but that’s where training and culture comes in. “We have a phenomenal staff,” said Robert Madrid, owner-operator of Gleam Car Wash.
Madrid and “captain planet”, his nickname for Burratta, have worked to make Gleam as green as they possibly could. They have a 41-kilowatt array of solar on our roof, with plans to add 42 more kilowatt on our other roof, 32 variable frequency drives, computers that ramp up each motor slowly so there’s no spike in electricity and there is 100 percent LED lighting throughout the car wash.
Gleam wants to leave their environment better off and that includes in their community. A portion of their proceeds go to two local nonprofits, Groundwork Denver and Children’s Hospital of Colorado. They also work with schools in their neighborhood to fundraise.
“We do believe in giving back in our community,” Baratta said. “It does make people feel good to bring their cars and their business to our business, because they know that we’re more than just washing cars.”
Team members at Emergenetics International pride themselves on living their work.
Bright wheels with varying proportioned wedges of blue, yellow, red and green dot desks, mousepads and walls outside offices, showcasing their Emergenetics profiles, outlining how each person works best.
“We’re a strength-based tool. Our goal is that you understand what your gifts are,” said Founder and CEO Geil Browning. “We tell them how to use their gifts to make a difference in terms of their creativity, their productivity, how to communicate with others and build teams.”
Browning created the assessment, which asks 100 questions and benchmarks responses against thousands of others from across the globe (42 percent of their population is from outside North America), with Wendell Williams in 1991.
“We believe very much if you have all the right brains in the room, there isn’t much you can’t do,” Browning said.
Under the Emergenetics approach, that means focusing on what she calls cognitive diversity – or bringing together people who think in different ways, whether analytical, structural, social or conceptual – to take on a task, whether in school or in a business.
Emergenetics uses that approach in their office, from how they build their teams to how they engage their team. “That’s part of the transparency that we’re very proud of,” Browning said.
Browing credits the company’s growth to the commitment of the team. They bring that commitment to the community, too. Emergenetics offers two paid days to employees to volunteer, matches all employee contributions to charity and supports organizations like the Florence Crittenton and Ronald McDonald House of Denver. And, their budget always starts with 10 percent of gross profits going to charity, Browning said.
Staff describe Emergenetics as a harmonious work environment, but for Browning, it’s more than work: “I always say, ‘Welcome to the family.’”
Before opening Coffee at The Point in 2010, Ryan Cobbins, drank just a few lattes a year. Though he’s learned to love coffee after opening the café and wine bar, what he is most passionate about is creating a community gathering space in the historic Five Points neighborhood.
“We take great pride in being that central hub of the community,” owner Cobbins said. “Everyone can feel welcome.”
Inspired by his three young daughters, it was important for him to start a business that would mean a safe space for them and others in the community to hang out. Their approach to the space and providing excellent service has solidified their presence in the neighborhood; whether its teachers grading papers, book clubs, artist meetups or game nights, people from across the neighborhood and the city fill sweeping space on 26th Avenue.
That connection to the community means they donated 97 percent of their meeting space rentals and Cobbins gives his time on boards that support business in Five Points and that nurture early childhood education.
And, when Coffee at The Point needed the support of their community, they returned the favor. When their espresso machine was on its last legs, they launched a crowdfunding campaign. They “received a crazy outpouring of support and love” and met their $25,000 goal in a matter of weeks, said Coffee at The Point Marketing Director Hilary Zwart.
Cobbins credits the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, a Chamber affiliate, with helping him strategically grow Coffee at The Point. And, he was able to dive deeper on his own leadership and community engagement through the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s Leadership Denver.
As he looks forward, he hopes to help his team meet their goals for personal growth and continue to share that importance of community spaces and the relationships they can foster: “I consider myself an eternal optimist,” Cobbins said. “There’s nothing more optimistic than sharing a cup of coffee or a tea with somebody.”
Fueled by partnerships and innovation, Hotel Engine is giving its customers what they’ve asked for – a private hotel booking platform for short stays and at a discounted rate.
Serving small to medium-sized businesses, companies can use the platform for business travel, and offer it to their employees as a savings benefit for personal travel.
What started as a four-person team has grown to 60. As a bootstrap start-up – not gaining funds from private equity – they’ve had to fail fast and learn faster.
Employees at Hotel Engine work hard to develop their vision, “to be the most loved hotel booking site on earth,” said Carlos Abisambra, chief strategy office at Hotel Engine. “That will be our guiding light from customer service, products, features, anything that we launch.”
Hotel Engine employees thrive on giving back to the community – locally and nationally. They’ve partnered with organizations like the Red Cross to offer at-cost lodging to those in need during natural disasters. With paid volunteer hours, Hotel Engine employees get to put their can-do attitude to work in the community as well.
As a member of the Chamber, Hotel Engine employees have taken advantage of over 25 different events in 2017. “We’ve benefited from meeting a lot of small-to-medium-size business but also a lot of partners who have helped us, whether it’s products, apps or services,” Abisambra said. “Those networking events have helped us get to meet people who have helped us grow.”
Hotel Engine is always iterating on their ideas and finding the best solution for their customers. The walls of their office tell the story with marker drawings and Post-It notes in every room.
“Anything that we launch is going to be around becoming the most loved hotel site on earth.”
If you show up to the Colfax viaduct on Friday morning, you’ll see volunteers lined up at tables packing food for children to take home on the weekends.
“If it’s snowing wear your boots, and if it’s hot out wear your shorts,” said Bob Bell, co-founder of Food For Thought Denver.
Food For Thought Denver’s mission is simple: make sure that no child in Denver Public Schools (DPS) goes without food over the weekend.
“This just helps them with some stability not only in their house, but in their pantry,” Bell said.
Food For Thought Denver targets schools where 90 percent or more of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch programs (income of a family of four is less than $29,000 a year). That’s close to 35,000 DPS children.
How are they reaching kids? A PowerSack. It’s 15 items of nonperishable food – from snacks to items that comprise a meal for the family – to last through the weekend. All the food is donated through a partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies. To date, Food For Thought has delivered nearly 240,000 PowerSacks.
“We put a bag for every kid. So, when we go to a school, it’s not picking and choosing amongst what kids need it and what kids don’t,” Bell said. “What we’re not about is stigmatizing a child.”
Food For Thought Denver leaders pride themselves on being volunteer-run.
“We don’t have a single paid staff,” Bell said.
Since its founding in 2012, Food For Thought Denver has grown from 500 kids to 8,200 kids. Bell’s mantra is if they take on a school, they’re never backing out of it.
“Everyone at food for thought just gives enough of their time – many hands make the load light,” Bell said. “And this is just the truest example of that.”
For the past 20 years, Denver Urban Scholars has been partnering with high poverty, high performing schools to unlock the potential of students facing added challenges by creating individual pathways to career and college.
Denver Urban Scholars was founded by the family of now President and CEO Patrick Byrne in 1995. “We’re working to improve the lives of Coloradans,” Byrne said.
Serving over 500 youth – from middle school through post-secondary – their student graduation rate is 94 percent, compared to Denver’s 67 percent rate overall.
“Last school year, 95 percent of our students moved on to the next grade level on time, 94 percent of students graduated,” Denver Urban Scholars Chief Operating Officer Susan Duncombe said. “And 88 percent of students went on to post-secondary.”
The deep relationships that are developed through mentoring is one nod to their success. With about 100 mentors a year, these relationships often last up to 10 years and verge on becoming a part of the family. Relationships matter to Denver Urban Scholars. Their mission to build trust and accountability with a personalized program, experienced staff and deeply committed volunteers.
Working across all sectors and partnering with schools and community organizations, they have built an intervention model that meets youth where they are.
“I am really excited about the future of Denver Urban Scholars,” Byrne said. “I think it is so important that within Denver, we’re working with the nonprofit sector, with the corporate sector, public sector, together in partnership to create change in people’s lives.”
With a bright future ahead, Denver Urban Scholars’ vision is to continue to increase graduation rates, while also bringing communities together.
Ceyl Prinster, Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) president and CEO, was honored with the David E. Bailey Small Business Advocate Award, sponsored by Wells Fargo, for her work to support entrepreneurs and small businesses.
It’s recognition that’s especially poignant for Prinster, because her first finance job was working for the award’s namesake Bailey at the United Bank of Denver.
“That was really the spark for me, under David Bailey, to really learn about small businesses, apply my skills and really see how important they are in our community,” Prinster said.
She was the first employee of the nonprofit, joining the team in 1987: “I wanted to build. I had that drive,” Prinster said. “I wanted to be able to help (entrepreneurs) and make something happen so they’d be able to fulfill their dreams.”
She took her finance experience working in small business loans and translated it to CEF, a community development financial institution that provides loans to startups and small businesses. The Fund plays an important role in the nonprofit lending space, providing capital to businesses that may not qualify for conventional loans. That was particularly true during the Great Recession, Prinster said.
“Banks were under stress in general, so they were required to pull back on their lending,” she said. “It was a perfect storm for many whose businesses were their livelihoods.”
Since joining CEF, Prinster said they’ve grown to $27 million in assets, from $200,000, and have made nearly $80 million in loans. Nearly 20,000 jobs have been created in the state as a result of that small business investment.
Their clients have always reflected a broad range of industries, size and long-term business goals. Notable borrowers include the popular Argentinian cafés of Maria Empanada to nursing and infant support pillow brand, Boppy Pillow.
“The entrepreneurial spirit (in Colorado) is alive and well – and on fire,” Prinster said.
Sara Crocker is communications manager for the Chamber.