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Today, Polis is keeping pace with these luminaries via a wide range of enterprises. First up is Jovian Holdings, a New York-based outfit that he describes as "my incubator for starting companies and managing my assets." Most of Jovian's efforts center on Provide Commerce, which runs the San Diego-based Proflowers, an Internet-based floral delivery service; Massachusetts's Dan's Chocolates, an online vendor of assorted sweets; Sonora Entertainment Group, which specializes in Spanish-language movie theaters modeled on Aurora's two-year-old Cinema Latino; and Asia Investment Partners, an operation with offices in Tokyo and Colorado that pairs him with Barry Hirschfeld Jr., scion to a local printing fortune. "We're basically buying notes on distressed property and then either settling them or doing stuff with the property we claim," Polis reveals about the last endeavor.
Provide Commerce did well during the first portion of 2004 -- well enough, anyway, that in early May, Polis was invited to ring the opening bell on the NASDAQ exchange, where the company is traded. "They showed it live on FNN and three or four other networks," Polis says. "It was exciting."
While several other items in Polis's portfolio are more focused on enjoyment than windfalls, he thinks "they could end up making money, too." This category includes Nabil's, a Boulder restaurant specializing in Mediterranean food that he's backing in conjunction with the joint's namesake, Nabil Karkamaz, and January Studios, a fledgling movie company whose inaugural production is scheduled to be The Dwarf, an oddball flick to which Peter Dinklage, star of The Station Agent, a critically acclaimed 2003 indie, has committed his talents. Producer Marc Rosen, a fellow Princeton grad who helped put the Harry Potter films on the big screen, is also aboard. Rosen's track record helps explain why The Dwarf has already received writeups in Variety and Entertainment Weekly despite the fact that financing and distribution haven't been finalized.
Meanwhile, Polis is involved in a bevy of non-profit efforts, most of them having to do with education. In addition to the New America School, he plans a 2005 debut for Denver Peak Academy, a school that's being forged in conjunction with Urban Peak, a Denver establishment that assists homeless teens. In the same vein, he funds the Jared Polis Foundation, which supports many educational missions. Most prominently, the foundation provides free curricula for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Denver and Boulder; offers access to Starfall.com, a reading program designed to assist learners with dyslexia; and funds Community Computer Connection, aka C3, which refurbishes old PCs for schools and organizations that couldn't otherwise afford them.
For example, C3 furnished 35 computers to the University of Northern Colorado's Native American Student Services department (NASS), an organization that Polis has come to know firsthand. Last September, Polis and friends Scott Stein and Josh Metnick accompanied NASS director Solomon Little Owl and a swarm of students to the Crow reservation in Montana as part of a trip sponsored by the department; Polis, Stein and Metnick take annual vacations together, with one of them doing the planning in secret to surprise the others. According to Little Owl, an account Stein and Metnick wrote about the journey for the June issue of the lad mag Maxim gave NASS "great exposure" -- something that's a Maxim specialty.
Little Owl believes the excursion, which included a buffalo hunt, was just as positive for Polis. "I think going on the hunt, visiting the reservation and seeing the inequality there were big eye-openers for Jared," he says. "He's educating himself about these things, and that's good, because Jared's the future. He's an ally in education, and also, hopefully, an ally when it comes to public policy."
Relationships like these benefit Polis both personally and politically. He's made it clear that he's interested in elective offices beyond the State Board of Education, and in March, he proved it by announcing his intention to seek the congressional seat supposedly being vacated by Mark Udall. Polis withdrew after Udall changed his mind about going after the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, but since then, he's stayed deeply involved with the Democratic Party. For one thing, he's donated generously to candidates and causes, giving Salazar $4,000, the maximum allowable under current law, and spreading $2,000 donations around to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and faded aspirants Howard Dean, Bob Graham and Wesley Clark. Bigger bucks have gone to political organizations, which don't have the same campaign limits as candidates. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee wound up with $10,000; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee received $20,000; and Moveon.org, a prominent national group dedicated to shooing George W. Bush from the Oval Office, stepped things up a digit, scoring $200,000.
Given the size of his wallet, it's no wonder Polis is regularly an honored guest and participant in strategy parleys and powwows with local and national officials at places like the recent Democratic convention in Boston, which he attended in its entirety. "I don't want to put Jared in the category of future leader, because I think he's a leader now," says Chris Gates, head of Colorado's Democratic Party. "He came into the political process as a young man who was fairly new to this world, and we've all seen him grow and mature and, frankly, become a real player in the last few years. He's absolutely one of the leaders of our party right now."