Russ visits with the associate director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston. The U of H program was recently rated the No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship in the nation, AGAIN, according to The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.
Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at http://www.TheBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on the show, and I've got a repeat guest with me today because I have the associate director of The Wolf Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, Ken Jones. Ken, welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show.
Ken: Yeah, it's great to be back. You bet.
Russ: Well, let me tell you, word just reached me that once again, The Wolf Center for Entrepreneurship has been ranked number one in thee nation by Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine. That's after being ranked number one the year before, number two the year before that, number one the year before that, all the way back to 2007. The program has either been one or two in the nation, and mostly number one. Is that right?
Ken: That's correct. I'm pretty excited about that.
Russ: Well, my goodness. What - look, I probably know this better than you do. I've been around the country. I've been to Babson College. I've been to USC, the Marshall School of Business, the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship. I've interviewed the head of the MIT program, TCU University of Texas. These are fabulous organizations and programs, and yet right here, University of Houston keeps winning these high rankings time and time again. What do you attribute that to?
Ken: Well, it's really not just us. It's I think the envelop of all the community. And by getting so many mentors and so many roundtable leaders and so many real industry, both small and large, involved in our program, I think that makes the big difference.
Russ: Well, I know that that happens, and I know that that is impressive, but it kind of happens in those other universities, too.
Ken: Well, we're blessed to be, I think, in one of the best entrepreneurial cities in the entire country, and so we really have a great resource to tap. And it's not so much what you know but who you know, and getting those kids exposed to so many different types of businesses makes a big, big difference.
Russ: Okay, well, I know that there are some unique things, too, that you do out there. One that I remember - I remember four years ago interviewing the representative at that time of the Princeton Review, and he really liked the fact that the program not only had these 60 or so people focused totally on entrepreneurship, but you offered entrepreneurship classes through the whole student body. You're still doing that.
Ken: That's right. We offer a certificate program to the entire student body. And so depending upon your major, one of the things that the certificate program does more than any is really enhances their resume and their hire ability. So we give them an exposure what we call corporate entrepreneurship. The ability to really think entrepreneurially within the confines of a business somebody else might own.
Russ: Don't you also think that that's just so much more important today than it ever has been given what these students are going to be facing when they get out in the real world?
Ken: These employers today don't want somebody they have to manage, and if they can get somebody in who can really give them a great three-for-one return on their pay card and think very entrepreneurially and think like an owner and at least better understand what the CEO has to go through, it makes them only that much more of an effective employee.
Russ: Well, not only to mention that probably a lot of them will sort of be solo practitioners or contractors and kind of needing to manage it, too. In fact, all these things keep popping up in my head. I'm also aware that the program is kind of being brought in, or they're bringing you into local organizations that you wouldn't think would want some entrepreneurship training. Did I hear this right, even the police department?
Ken: As a matter of fact, yes. I think very admiringly, the Houston police department, 5,200 strong, they want to start to try to instill entrepreneurial thinking within the rank and file. Not necessarily so they can all go start up their own business, although many do on the side, but so that they can better understand what a small business and an owner go through and how they can better enhance their customer service skills.
Russ: My goodness, that is forward thinking. And has that already happened or getting ready?
Ken: That's starting to happen this month.
Russ: Okay, very interesting. Now the things that I know that are going on out there, you're welcome to add to this list, but I hear that you've sort of implemented a course on failure.
Ken: Yeah, we do a whole course. We try to give everybody exposure, and I think you learn a heck of a lot more from those who have failed than listening to everybody's successes. And everyone out in this community loves to tell their failure stories because I don't think too many people are real overnight successes. And so it's great. It really works out. I call that bottom fishing, but they get a great exposure to what people have done wrong, and we learn that way and document it accordingly. It's really done well.
Russ: Well, Ken, I can't tell you how important I think that would be. You know, having interviewed as many entrepreneurs as I have, initially, I kind of started it wanting to expose how challenging and how difficult it is to start your own business, and how many sleepless nights you might have and so forth. And most of the time when you read books and stuff about entrepreneurship, they love to really flaunt the success stories, and I think they tend to make too many people think, "Well, this is easy. I ought to go do it myself." But I imagine if they sat through your failure class, they might think a little differently."
Ken: Well, yeah, when you start peeling back the covers of everybody, everybody has got all sorts of problems that they never usually like to talk about, and man, it becomes kind of cathartic when folks show up when they can really tell what they did wrong, and that way, everybody can relate. I akin that to the comedian who has materials that everyone can relate to, and by doing so, he creates an affinity with them, and we kind of do the same thing.
Russ: Have you ever had students actually want to drop out of the program after they've heard some of the failures?
Ken: Not drop out, but maybe change their course of action or the focus or who their customer base might be or realize that they might need a little bit more money than they otherwise thought they needed.
Russ: Now when you mention their customer base, I've heard you talk before a couple times, too, and you sort of do an extra strong emphasis particularly on these younger people about how important understanding your customer is. And I would think that would be enormously important, particularly at that age in somebody's business career.
Ken: Well, the biggest lament that I have and the mistake that I see young people make is that they spend way too wide of a perspective and a focus on who they're going to go after, and they don't have enough money to do that. They really don't know who that customer is. So we really try to get narrower and narrower and narrower and get that niche down to where they can essentially try to own their channel.
Russ: Okay. And speaking of owning their channel, I hear you talk sometimes about success stories that have come out of the program. Share a few of those with us.
Ken: Oh, we've had some magnificent stories. I guess one of the best stories would be we had a very now famous person, Kevin Cobb, who is now the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. And so we said, "Let's take risk, and let's do your business based on you." So we commercialized him. We saved all the web knowledge and the URLs on him, and he has now signed a $62 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals, and we're really trying to protect his brand.
Russ: Now how did the program know Kevin Cobb?
Ken: He applied and got into our program while he was a student at the University of Houston.
Russ: Wow, that's a success story.
Ken: So I would say on an individual basis so far, that would have to be probably one of our most grandiose successes.
Ken: But we've had wonderful stories. We've got one student from a while ago, loved to tutor. And he has since turned around his tutoring company into a wildly successful program competing with Kaplan and Princeton Review, believe it or not, and he only does one-on-one training in someone's home. And he has a magnificent - his company is called Cram Crew, and he's done very well in Houston, and he's expanded it into markets outside of Houston.
Russ: So I assume he's recruited in and has a staff of tutors that -
Ken: You bet, and he recruits all the smart folks, and parents are very price inelastic. They'll pay anything to make their son or daughter better than they were. So he really understands his market and is quite successful at it.
Russ: That's interesting. Just when you were telling me that idea, particularly young, aspiring entrepreneurs will hear a story like that and think, "That's a great idea. All I need is a great idea." But I'm sure this guy experienced that there's so much more to it other than the idea.
Ken: Well, an idea is one thing. Sixty-five percent of all new businesses today are franchises. We do not teach how to be a franchisee. But for those now that think that they've got an idea - and maybe sometimes it's common to an idea from across the street, but what is the twist? What's the pain you've identified? How do you pull that out?
Russ: Real interesting. Now a second ago when you were talking about getting them to focus because they get too broad, and they don't understand how much money it takes, it reminds me of another technique I heard you using when you were really at the University of Houston downtown, and I think you'd kick off the semester each time to try to get them to understand what sort of money they need to have the lifestyle that they want. Share that with us.
Ken: Well, every year, we basically do the Ken Oprah Winfrey Show, and they all have to shout out all the expenses they're going to have when they get out of school. They're living on their own, and we really get after it. For an hour and a half, we're writing it out on all the expenses. Rent, car, living, food, entertainment, et cetera expenses, and I've been doing that for 15 years. So when we started doing it 15 years ago on an after tax basis, they ended up needing around 41, 42,000. This year, it was 117,000. So then I say to them, "All right, now you understand entrepreneurship because how are you going to go make $117,000.00 when you get out of school? There's only one way, and that is take a risk." So that really sets the stage and the level of legitimacy and relevancy with what we try to put through.
Russ: That's so interesting. Well, look, I have to congratulate you again. I just think it's incredible that this program is number one in the nation. Clearly, it's sort of a subjective thing, but it's a subjective thing handed out by some very knowledgeable people who know all the programs. So congratulations big time.
Ken: Thank you. It's been - we're very proud of that, and we know that our competition is out there, so we work very hard to stay that way.
Russ: Really cool. All right, well that's Ken Jones, associate director of The University of Houston's Wolf Center for Entrepreneurship. This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at http://www.TheBusinessMakers.com.