Activities & Organizations

Series encourages student entrepreneurs

According to successful entrepreneurs and UH alumni Ryan Soroka and Aaron Corsi, now is the time for aspiring artisans and craftsmen to follow their dreams and start small businesses.

The Center for Student Involvement hosted the latest event of its Catalyst Luncheon Series Tuesday at the New UC. Soroka and Corsi were invited to discuss their success founding the Eatsie Boys Cafe on Montrose and Richmond and the 8th Wonder Brewery in East Downtown near the BBVA Compass Stadium and Minute Maid Park.

“We’re trying to bring influential speakers from the Houston community to campus to answer questions about their careers,” said leadership and civic engagement graduate assistant Abbey Hartgrove.

The introduction of entrepreneurs to the series was a direct result of the questionnaires that the audience was asked to fill out during events. Last semester, students requested that small-business owners take the stage, and CSI obliged.

“I’ve been to other Catalyst Luncheons before,” said integrated communications junior Lisa Brazil. “I learn something new every time.”

Speakers advised students in the audience to carefully select business partners, remain in contact with city politicians and choose investors who aren’t seeking to control any aspect of the business.

“We want your dollars, not your ‘two cents’,” Soroka said.

Regarding investors, the speakers said to never make promises on returns. Soroka and Corsi both recommend finding investors who are not afraid to potentially lose everything they put in to a project.

“As a small-business owner, you’re going to encounter setbacks almost every day,” Soroka said.

Even so, Soroka and Corsi say today’s economy is favorable for small-business owners, and the city of Houston is slow when it comes to picking up coastal trends. There are opportunities for market growth — such as food trucks and breweries — that are relatively untapped in the South.

“There is a local movement growing where consumers want to know where their food, drink and other products are coming from,” Soroka said. “This means it’s a good time for local businesses.”

The piece of advice they emphasized the most, though, was to take advantage of the numerous resources offered at the University.

Corsi, a professor of wine, beer, and spirits production at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, recalled the entrepreneurship classes he took as a graduate student that offered some of the best connections in business settings. As a graduate student, Soroka opted to draft a business plan in place of the traditional thesis, and it went on to provide the framework for the 8th Wonder Brewery.

“I’m interested in the stories of success and failure that the Catalyst lunches provide. They’re invaluable, not the stuff you get from a textbook,” said hotel and restaurant management senior T. Corey Robicheaux.

Soroka and Corsi’s goal for the future is to found the first brewing program in a Texas university as a way to give back to the school that helped them succeed.

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