Bauer professor inspires original entrepreneurship
As director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, Kenneth Jones has heard thousands of ideas.
Jones’ role at the University has evolved since starting at UH as an adjunct professor. After making his mark at the Wolff Center, he is now also the executive director for the Center for Industrial Partnerships at UH.
“My favorite course to teach at UH was always the intro course to entrepreneurship,” Jones said. “If I reach one person in there and I affect the trajectory of where they’re headed then I call that a win. To get people excited about entrepreneurship is pretty fun.”
Jones, who received his MBA at UH, also sets up the entrepreneurship program at University of Houston-Downtown. In previous years, he has taught several business courses.
Beacon for students
Entrepreneurship senior Kevin Cho said Jones was one of the most inspirational and life-changing mentors he had ever worked with. Cho cited Jones and his experience as the source behind a significant amount of personal and professional growth.
“I had never met anyone like him,” Cho said. “He could be interpreted as pushy and overly militant about every little mistake you make. In reality, he was a person I could always trust to tell me where I needed to improve as an entrepreneur.”
Cho is part of the team behind Sensytec, a company that focuses on smart cement technology that lets users monitor the conditions of cement structures in real-time.
Jones, with his experience in business, helped the team at every step as an adviser. He helped with their business model and determined whom they should contact and helped them establish connections.
Jones also worked out legal details that the team members had no experience in.
Cho said they were always able to run their ideas by Jones so that they could safely make decisions. They felt confident with him as one of their most important teachers and strategic advisers.
Yotham Kassaye, a marketing senior, saw Jones as a hands-on professor after taking one of his classes.
“He would bring startups to class and make them practice their pitch,” Kassaye said. “Then he would tell us to ‘rip them apart.’”
Jones would actively call on each student to participate in class. If the student didn’t know the answer, he would question why they didn’t ask him to clarify the concept.
“He had tendencies to be in-your-face and challenge the answers that you gave,” Cho said. “The purpose was not to be aggressive, but rather he wanted to teach the class to be confident in our final decisions. He would say, ‘In the doors of our classroom, you are safe. You can mess up in front of me and learn from it. If you can handle me and the way I challenge you, then you can handle anyone in the real world.’”
Cho recalled not being able to confidently speak in front of Jones when the first classes began in the Wolff Center.
“However, I can safely say that because of him, I am a far more assertive person than I was when I started,” Cho said.
Source of innovation
This semester, the UH Innovation Center has opened at the Energy Research Park near Spur 5. Jones likes to call the startup incubator “The Spur” and serves as an advisor and a facilitator for every endeavor.
Each team is made up of a diverse group of people, which Jones said is the key to their individual successes.
“Entrepreneurship is not just a business student thing,” Jones said. “We try to include STEM students, Valenti students. The most fun for me is to see someone start from scratch and end up with a real viable business where they’re hiring people and they’ve got a gainful income.”
The Innovation Center, where Jones occasionally holds seminars, has opened up a new avenue for UH students to showcase their skills and inventions while receiving guidance from advisors like Jones.
There are hundreds of projects in various stages of the process at the center. While most of them are virtually unheard of to the average person, everyone involved appreciates the difficulty of getting an idea off the paper and into the labs.
“Each one is successful relative to where they are in their overall cadence of things,” Jones said. “From concept to delivery, that’s the challenge.”
The best advice he can give to a student who is thinking of starting a new business is to do their research properly, especially if you’re opening a restaurant.
“Talk to a lot of potential customers before you start,” Jones said. “Most times people traditionally build something and hope they come.”
One student he gave such advice to was Brooks Bassler, the founder of BB’s Cafe. As Jones’ former mentee, Bassler said that Jones was integral to his success thanks to his trademark bluntness.
“Ken is a forward-thinking innovator and no matter what he will always give you straight-forward, blunt and honest feedback,” Bassler said. “He has been instrumental in my development as an entrepreneur.”
Jones has had nearly over 25 years of experience in the business field. In addition to having his own consulting firm Ken Jones Partners, he is also an instructor and speaker for the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
Still giving back
Although Jones is no longer teaching at Bauer, he said he will never close that door and that being an educator is something he is most fond of.
Jones believes that being a professor has taught him more than he could ever imagine, saying that he can never believe how smart and talented his students can be when given the opportunity.
“Frankly, you learn a lot more by teaching than passively listening,” Jones said. “If I’m teaching a class, I better know my research material.”
This year, Jones has switched his focus from teaching entrepreneurship courses to establishing the UH Innovation Center and raising awareness of the projects there. However, his advice is still open to students in all areas of UH.
“He has this sales-ish and assertive demeanor, but he’s a softy on the inside once you get to know him,” Cho said.