Entrepreneur Polis’ foundation his way to give back to education

BOULDER — When Jared Polis was still in high school, it was clear he wasn’t your typical teen. Entrepreneurial was one adjective to came to the minds of those who knew him.

He was a high schooler who began buying surplus scrap metal from the Defense Department and selling it to mills. At 17, he traveled to Moscow and spent a summer trading privatization vouchers on the Russian commodities exchange. He was the only non-Russian on the floor.

When he returned he headed to Washington, D.C. to serve as a summer intern for U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle. Polis also helped with several political campaigns and served as a regional campaign manager for former California Gov. Gray Davis in his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1991 and 1992.

Also in the early 1990s, while getting his Ivy-league degree in political science from Princeton University, he co-founded American Information Systems Inc., an Internet software development company that was sold to Exodus Communications in 1998. In the mid-90s he started Bluemountain.com, an electronic greeting card site on the Internet. He led its business development team until the company was sold to Excite@Home in 1999.

Are you getting a picture of an overachiever?

By end of the 1990s, Polis decided to seek a spot on the Colorado State Board of Education in addition to overseeing his business pursuits. He won and is now board chairman.

He’s a staunch supporter and believer in the power of education.

“I wanted to do more to provide opportunities for the under-served communities in Colorado,” Polis says. “I started the Jared Polis Foundation as a way to support the mobile classroom (a bus with a technology curricula that visits area schools), redistribute discarded corporate computers to communities who needed them and more recently the school choice program.”

He started the foundation with $76,000. Based in Boulder, the foundation promotes education, community and technology in Colorado by supplying software and hardware to schools and nonprofits that want computer labs or need technology to operate better.

Its annual 2004 budget is more than $1 million. Since July 2001, his foundation has distributed 2,000 computers. Recently it refurbished more than 40 computers for the Boys & Girls Club, and will refurbish 60 more for their sites throughout Colorado.

Polis has said his foundation aims to enable people to be proactive in their communities by pursuing education and technology programs.

The foundation has four primary programs:

1. The Community Computer Connection “C3” program refurbishes computers that are donated from corporations, organizations and individuals and gives them to qualified nonprofits and schools throughout Colorado.

2. The Jared Education Report is a biannual report that goes to a million-plus Colorado households. The report highlights innovations in education and also provides updates from the Colorado State Board of Education.

3. The Education Station is a bus loaded with computers and software that travels to Colorado schools so students can get hands-on practice with new technology.

4. School Choice program focuses on funding innovative educational choices. An example is The American School Charter, which seeks to extend the benefits of English literacy and a high school liberal arts education to immigrant communities in the Denver metro area.

Foundation officials say the foundation doesn’t provide traditional grants to other nonprofit organizations, and instead, focuses on its programs to maximize the impact and reach.