Get­ting started

The force be­hind a UH en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram tells how it works.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Ly­dia DePil­lis ly­dia.depil­ twit­­di­ade­pil­lis

From her of­fices at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton’s Bauer School of Busi­ness, mi­cro­fi­nance ex­pert Dr. Saleha Khu­mawala runs a pro­gram called Stim­u­lat­ing Ur­ban Re­newal through En­trepreneur­ship, or SURE, which matches MBA stu­dents with lo­cal en­trepreneurs who need coach­ing busi­nesses to off get the their ground.small The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle caught up with Khu­mawala to talk about how it works. Q: How did SURE get started? A:

The pro­gram started purely out of in­ter­est from the stu­dents. You can­not teach some­one mi­cro­fi­nance out of a text­book. We are an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. We have never given loans. We are not a bank. But what we do is a lot more than money. The mi­cro­fi­nance lit­er­a­ture says that you give peo­ple money, and 98 per­cent of peo­ple pay back. But they all don’t go up to the next eco­nomic band. And the rea­son for that is, they don’t have that ed­u­ca­tion, to take their busi­ness to the next level.

Our pro­gram, as it is now, started in fall of 2012. The en­tire aca­demic year, it was a pi­lot pro­gram in the Greater East End. We learned from that about the com­mu­nity. And based on that ex­pe­ri­ence, we launched a full-scale pro­gram. Our goals are to pro­vide stu­dents with ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing, em­pa­thy and all the soft skills that are needed for the mar­ket. Q: What kind of en­trepreneurs do you find out there to join the pro­gram? A:

The en­trepreneurs that we find are those that are com­mit­ted to their busi­ness idea or those that have an ex­ist­ing busi­ness and want to scale it but don’t know how. A highly ed­u­cated woman came to us. She was a fit­ness guru but got laid off be­cause of the oil crash and de­cided, “I’m go­ing to start my own fit­ness stu­dio, but I don’t know how.” Q: Are they mostly peo­ple of color? A:

Mostly peo­ple of color, or ‘un­der-re­sourced,’ that lack ac­cess to cap­i­tal, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, to a net­work, to the mar­ket­place. We have bak­ers, cater­ers, event planners, lawn mow­ers, re­pair guys, pest con­trol, app de­vel­op­ers. We have a very suc­cess­ful seam­stress who tai­lors and de­signs clergy robes. We had an Epis­co­palian priest, and her busi­ness was go­ing to be train­ing clergy on giv­ing ser­mons. We have a yoga stu­dio, late-night cafes, hos­pices. And this is now the bread and but­ter for them. Q: Do you find that the folks you work with are over­looked? A:

Ab­so­lutely. We ad­dress the need that hasn’t been ad­dressed to date, in terms of the com­mu­ni­ties that we serve. This se­mes­ter, 80 per­cent are AfricanAmer­i­cans. Five hun­dred twenty-four have gone through our pro­gram, and we ad­mit­ted 71 this se­mes­ter. You have the Mayor’s Com­plete Com­mu­ni­ties project, and you have the In­no­va­tion Dis­trict, and we are the bridge be­tween the two. Q: When busi­nesses be­come suc­cess­ful, do they tend to stay in the com­mu­nity? A: Yes, ours are all lo­cal. Just to give you an ex­am­ple, our chan­cel­lor, Renu Kha­tor, wants to make the Third Ward a Tier One neigh­bor­hood, just like UH is a Tier One univer­sity. We have quite a few en­trepreneurs who come from the Third Ward. And they come to us not just be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tion, but be­cause they want to stay and start busi­nesses and lift up the very neigh­bor­hood that they grew up in. Q: So it sounds like there’s a lot of work be­ing done to in­te­grate with the com­mu­nity. Do you feel that the Univer­sity of Hous­ton has been slow to do that? A: No. The Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion has been work­ing in the neigh­bor­hood for years. It’s not been slow; as a mat­ter of fact it’s the other way around. We don’t get the cov­er­age that we should be get­ting. Our Col­lege of Ho­tel and Res­tau­rant Man­age­ment does a lot. The stu­dents are very ac­tive, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion is be­hind it. You hear about Sta­tion Hous­ton all the time, but we don’t get the cov­er­age.

Project Row­houses is part of the Col­lege of Arts. The Col­lege of Phar­macy does so much. Our Col­lege of Nurs­ing. Ar­chi­tec­ture has the Com­mu­nity De­sign Re­source Cen­ter, and they did all the plan­ning for Eman­ci­pa­tion Boulevard. The Law Cen­ter has a free le­gal clinic. Op­tom­e­try does free eye screen­ing. One of the things we are try­ing to do is have a hub where all of these re­sources that UH has for the com­mu­nity are in one place, so you just have to click. Q: I know you don’t give out money, but en­trepreneurs do need money. So how do your par­tic­i­pants get it? A:

We have re­la­tion­ships with all the lenders in town be­cause our pro­gram is now known. It’s a full 14 weeks, and then their busi­ness plan is due. Ev­ery week is a topic, and at the end of that week, they’ve got to com­plete that part of their busi­ness plan. On the 14th week, they pitch. And then we have bankers — SBA lenders in town, Wells Fargo, the LiftFund, Peo­ple­fund, Kiva, Cap­i­tal One, Frost Bank has a very nice pro­gram for en­trepreneurs that makes ac­cess to cap­i­tal very easy. And they’re judg­ing, like Shark Tank. But be­cause they’re family, I call it an aquar­ium.

And the stu­dents de­velop em­pa­thy. In to­day’s mar­ket­place, em­ploy­ers say, “Tech­ni­cal skills — we can teach them on the job. But we can’t teach em­pa­thy.” And em­pa­thy is the driver for in­no­va­tion. So that gives them an ad­van­tage. They’re very em­ploy­able.

Michael Wyke

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