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Hotel Engine Named Startup of the Year by Denver Metro Chamber

Finalists Guild Education and Puzzah were also in the running for the 2018 honor


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WINNER

HOTEL ENGINE

Privately owned, founder-led Hotel Engine was spun off of sister company Travelers Haven in November 2014. The Denver startup maintains the mission of providing meaningful innovation and exclusive savings for the traveling workforce. The company empowers corporate customers to save and streamline planning and payment with a free booking portal that provides access to wholesale pricing, on average 26 percent less than traditional booking fees.

Hotel Engine, a commission-based business model, seeks to fill the gap in the booking market. "Small- to medium-sized businesses don't really have any negotiating power when it comes to hotel rates," says founder Elia Wallen, Hotel Engine's CEO who self-financed the startup. "They're getting the same rates consumers are."

In its first three years, Hotel Engine grew its customer base to 12,000, with 120,000 users and revenue growth upward of 300 percent. The company has expanded its offering, initially focused on small businesses and now including large corporations, including Ford, Pepsi and General Mills. The company has also added a rewards program, and an auto-rebooking feature. 

Looking forward, Hotel Engine hopes to have travel offered as a corporate benefit, like health care and 401k plans. In addition the brand is positioning itself to be the "most loved hotel booking site," on the planet, says Carlos Abisambra, the company's chief strategy offer.  



FINALISTS

GUILD EDUCATION

Denver-based Guild Education, an education benefits company offers classes, programs and degrees for working adults, paving a road for growth and success in education and careers. Noting 64 million American adults are without degrees, Guild seeks to seamlessly bridge the gap between work and school, providing wraparound support and advising. The company works with businesses including Chipotle, Denver Public Schools, Lowe's Taco Bell and Lyft to encourage their workers to continue their education using tuition reimbursement

Through Taco Bell's partnership with Guild, the company saw a 98 percent retention rate over six months, a 34 percent increase over employees that were not enrolled in the program. 

To date, the B Corp founded in 2015 has raised $31.5 million in investment, using the most recent Series B financing round to expand the team and technology. 

"We are empowering economic mobility," says Guild's co-founder Brittany Stich. "We are inspired by our students' persistence and grit."



PUZZAH!

A play on the recently popular escape rooms, Puzzah's first puzzle room came on downtown Denver's scene in 2014, creating custom-made high-tech immersive adventures. 

According to Nick Lawson, community outreach and events coordinator for Puzzah, all the technology included in the eight rooms split between Denver and Broomfield is made in house. The venues' computer-controlled "adaptive clue system" self-modifies depending on how it takes players to reach the grand finale. The rooms cater to individuals, small groups, corporate teambuilding activities and more. 

"We chose Denver as a place of enthusiastic people who would be willing to try us out and it ended up being a great decision, Lawson says, citing the local population's "strong spirit of adventure."

Puzzah's greatest challenge, according to Lawson is keeping up with growth and scaling the operation. 

However, the playful Colorado company has the ability to create custom puzzles, scavenger hunts and programs inside other organizations, including zoos, hotels and schools. Puzzah will continue to expand and build additional connections with local businesses looking forward.

2018 Business Awards - Start-Up Business of the Year Finalists from Denver Metro Chamber on Vimeo.

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Gigi Sukin

Gigi Sukin is digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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