For a fifth consecutive year, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston has been named the No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the United States. The Wolff Center has garnered the top spot in the annual list compiled by The Princeton Review and published in Entrepreneur magazine a total of eight times, and it has ranked in the Top 10 each year since 2007.
“We are gratified to receive another No.1 ranking, especially as we are poised to reach more potential entrepreneurs through the establishment of the Wayne B. Duddlesten Free Enterprise Institute,” said Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou.
“The Wolff Center’s reign as an entrepreneurship dynasty has in large part been enabled by the generosity of our community,” Pavlou said. “In addition to the Wolff family and the many business leaders who contribute their valuable time to mentor our students, a recent $5 million gift from the Wayne Duddlesten Foundation will further enrich and expand this formidable program.”
Since its establishment at Bauer College in 1991, the Wolff Center has educated an elite group of undergraduate business students who create businesses through a small cohort program.
“We believe in entrepreneurship, we believe in free enterprise, and we’re in the number one city for entrepreneurship,” said Wolff Center executive director Dave Cook. “When we put students into this entrepreneurial mix, and we introduce and reinforce free enterprise values, our intent is to change students’ lives and to create the next generation of business leaders with the highest integrity who are going to go out and create their own cultures, their own companies and their own futures.”
"Recent rankings are proof that UH and the C. T. Bauer College of Business are committed to supporting the achievements of aspiring entrepreneurs and contributing to the economic growth of our nation."
- Provost Diane Z. Chase
The Princeton Review’s annual ranking of nearly 300 U.S. business schools with entrepreneurship programs evaluates approximately 40 data points, such as experiential learning opportunities, career outcomes and business success. The most significant measure of success is the number of businesses that are created. Wolff Center alumni have created more than 6,000 businesses in the past 10 years alone.
"The Wolff Center continues to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders and influencers. Recent rankings are proof that UH and the C. T. Bauer College of Business are committed to supporting the achievements of aspiring entrepreneurs and contributing to the economic growth of our nation," said Diana Z. Chase, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. "Being named No. 1 by the Princeton Review five years in a row is indeed gratifying and inspiring on many levels. I am proud of the hard work of the faculty, staff and students at the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and look forward to further success in the years to come."
The Wolff Center’s influence, however, reaches far beyond the award-winning cohort.
Nearly 4,000 UH students outside the business school also take classes in entrepreneurship each year. Bauer College recently added an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. UH Honors students can now supplement their degree plan by earning a Certificate of Entrepreneurship. RED Labs Summer Accelerator Program and RED Launch nurture fledgling technology business startups.
While the cohort program’s original focus of creating business leaders of integrity through experiential education and one-on-one mentorship has not changed, the Wolff Center’s willingness to grow and evolve is a key to its success, Cook said.
“We hold on to the things that work but are constantly looking at how to make it a better student experience,” he said.
Two years ago, the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship took their cohort class to Lockhart, TX, where they have mentored over 200 women who are in prison and currently working on a business plan to purse after they are released (Empowering Women Out of Prison).
The Duddlesten Foundation’s most recent gift will enable other formative changes, Cook said.
“In the very near future, you will be able to come to the Wolff Center and not only be assigned a mentor, you will be able to speak to a patent attorney, obtain help with website design and social media, receive a stipend to get your prototype made,” Cook added.
By identifying would-be entrepreneurs with ideas and intellectual capital that have the potential to be incubated and later, commercialized, the objective is for Wolff Center expertise to be woven more seamlessly throughout the UH campus.
Its community-wide reach will also grow with the development of more opportunities to work with students from junior colleges, high school and junior high schools throughout Texas.
“With the help of the Duddlesten Institute, the Wolff Center is bringing to life a vision of entrepreneurship being nurtured and supported across the UH campus and beyond,” Cook said. “It’s an amazing program. We are grateful for this recognition and eager to continue to make a difference in the lives of our students.”
- By Julie Bonnin, Nov. 7, 2023
“Cleaning was a way to feed the family. It was that clear.”
— Xavier Esquivel, WCE student
Xavier Esquivel Honors the Past, Welcomes the Future
It started as a necessity. That’s how Xavier Esquivel opens the story of the business that became the soul of his family and his source of inspiration.
In his early years, his mother took Esquivel and his sister Pamela to work. Her new business, Galveston 7 Day Cleaning, was a one-woman show back then, with few clients.
“There was no money for someone to take care of us. So she woke us with, ‘You’re not in school, so let’s go clean,’” Esquivel recalled. “It was just my mom, my sister and me, vacuuming, mopping, doing everything to serve our customers.”
Esquivel is now a University of Houston senior, majoring in management and entrepreneurship, and enrolled at the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. He still works for Galveston 7 Day Cleaning, too, scrubbing with the teams on the weekend and, around the clock, handling administrative duties he took on while still in his teens.
The weeks are busy.
“I come to Wolff on Monday mornings. All-day classes, meetings and projects through Thursday. Fridays, I drive down to Galveston. Then Monday mornings, I do it over again,” he said.
He realizes it sounds heavy, or even terrible – at this point, Esquivel flashes his famous smile – “but I like making money, so I’m having fun.”
As a Wolff Center student, he now polishes presentation skills, sharpens financial smarts, tidies up business organization abilities and serves as the leader of a Dream Team – learning skills welcome in the company he will eventually lead as CEO.
Galveston 7 Day Cleaning was born of his mother’s desperation to trade unskilled, low-paying jobs with hotel housekeeping staffs and fast-food places for an enterprise she could grow. “Cleaning was a way to feed the family. It was that clear,” he remembers. “My mom always held an entrepreneurial spirit.”
There were small steps, medium-size victories then one huge jump: Her successful pitch for a cleaning contract at Moody Gardens Hotel. To the same hotel where Blanca Arevalo had worked hard as a new immigrant, she would return as a business owner.
“I remember her face lighting up as we arrived,” Esquivel said. “People from years ago were still there. That’s when it hit hard. Her work paid off, and her children were beside her. I’m thankful to remember her big smile that day.”
- By Sara Strong
“We can actually make a difference in the world.”
— Jayli Samnaneveth, WCE student
Jayli Samnaneveth Finds Her Purpose
When Jayli Samnaneveth was 10, her parents bought a restaurant. “Wonderful foods and having my friends over, I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she remembers. “Being that 10-year-old, I didn't see the sacrifice it takes for a business to survive and thrive.”
Edojin Sushi Restaurant, in the Cypress area of northwest Houston, is still theirs. Samnaneveth has learned lots about sushi, food service, team camaraderie and hard work over the years.
Now, as a student at the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, her lessons go deeper. The Wolff Center, at the University Houston’s C. T. Bauer College of Business, revolves around four core values: Purpose, relationships, action and discipline.
“The very motivated environment pushes you to figure out what you want to do with your life,” said Samnaneveth, a marketing and entrepreneurship major with a minor in human relations. “Once you recognize your goals, your mentors and the teachers at Wolff help you find how to link your purpose to your career.”
The rigorous 18-month program begins with Purpose class, a first-semester course developed and taught by Wolff Center Executive Director Dave Cook as part of Wolff Center’s three-semester Value and Leadership curriculum.
“We each start by listing 100 dreams, or what we want to accomplish in life. By knowing our goals, we can actually make a difference in the world and leave the world a better place,” Samnaneveth said. That lesson and others clarified a vision: Her professional future will stay where it began – at Edojin, the family’s restaurant.
“I cannot imagine driving past and it not being ours anymore. We have amazing regulars who come in, and together we built a community. My dream is to continue that,” Samnaneveth said.
Her parents spend a little more time away from the business than before. Her uncle is Edojin’s general manager, her grandmothers help in the kitchen, and several cousins are among the servers. “Plus, our loyal customers are like family. I want to keep the circle going. Family is everything. I know that now,” she said.
With that base clarified, she will have freedom to take on other goals on her list.
“If you don't have your purpose or a meaning to what you do, you're not going to be as fulfilled as someone who does,” Samnaneveth said.
- By Sara Strong
“It’s (Wolff Center) changed my life in more ways than I could imagine, with opportunities to think, lead and connect."
— Alim Maknojia
Alim Maknojia Focuses on the Entrepreneurial Path
Alim Maknojia’s future started to become clear one day in high school, when a friend mentioned something about the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. “I’ve always been an entrepreneurial kid. So right then and there, I looked it up,” he said.
Not only it was the country’s No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurial program, but it was at the University of Houston’s C. T. Bauer College of Business – practically local for his home in Richmond, a city southwest of Houston.
Maknojia decided on the spot: “That’s where I’m headed.” The Wolff Center has not disappointed.
“It’s changed my life in more ways than I could imagine, with opportunities to think, lead and connect,” said Maknojia, who holds the Wolff Center’s prestigious Plank Scholarship, named for benefactor Raymond Plank, founder of Apache Oil.
Maknojia’s own story begins even before he and sister were born.
His parents left India to build a better future for the next generation. They immigrated first to Beaumont, in east Texas, where his father worked in gas stations. Similar business moved the young family to Spring, north of Houston, then to Richmond while the family has been owner-operator for 13 years of the Pogie Plant Shell station on Broadway Street in Pearland. Observing his father’s business skill – through risks, challenges and joys – inspired the son’s parallel path.
His advice for UH students deciding their future? “Try everything. You can join many student organizations for little or no cost and you experience so much. If you are considering entrepreneurship, then volunteer at Wolffest.”
Maknojia’s current entrepreneurial dreams point him toward real estate. He is president and CEO, and Argentina Guerra is vice president, of the Real Estate Roundtable – or W.R.E.V., for Wolff Real Estate Ventures – a new Wolff Center initiative this year. Its programs and speaker events are open to everyone on campus.
“Don’t ever think your dream is too big. If someone tells you to be realistic, that’s the worst piece of advice. Listen to professionals in the field and imagine yourself in their jobs, then decide.”
The philosophy helped Maknojia clarify his future: “I plan to start multiple businesses in different industries while also helping the people around me. And I hope to leave a lasting impact on the world.”
- By Sara Strong