Wolffest team hopes to help community

A team of nine UH students will compete  from April 8 to 10 in the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship’s annual Wolffest in the hopes that their business plan campaign, the competition’s first entry focused on a social cause, will win against the other seven teams.

Students with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship will compete with makeshift restaurants next month to reach out for the community. File photo/The Daily Cougar

Students with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship will compete with makeshift restaurants next month to reach out for the community. File photo/The Daily Cougar

WCE seniors Christopher Wick, Paula Musa, Jacob Hines and Karey Gallagher and juniors Tri Nguyen, Adrienne Gantt, Mable Wan, Robert Rantz and Chris Holly have come up with Dream It Houston, a campaign that focuses on giving back to the community, which is the first online-operating campaign submitted to the competition.

At Wolffest, the largest business-plan competition on campus hosted by the WCE, competing teams will open makeshift restaurants to raise money and promote their business plan from April 8 to 10. David Cook, director of mentoring programs for the WCE, said he is amazed every year at the variety and creativity that the students use in creating their businesses.

“Last year, our students went out and made deals with food trucks, and despite lots of opposition, they were successful, and food trucks have become part of our campus life,” Cook said. “This creativity is the first part of the WCE experience … being able to identify good ideas and creatively bring them to market. Chris’ work is an excellent example of this.”

For Wick and his team, it was all about reaching out to the community at the University’s doorstep.

“We were thinking of unique ideas for Wolffest, and we thought it would be a cool idea to do a crowd-funding campaign and trying to seek out local communities,” said Wick, CEO of Dream It Houston. “We thought it would be great to work with nonprofit centers around here, so we found Generation One.”

By teaming up with Generation One Academy, a local academic program in the Third Ward, the students will work with the academy’s children to expose them to UH. The goal is to raise $20,000 in 30 days, which will fund a Summer 2014 WCE Entrepreneurship Camp for the Generation One kids, a grant for Generation One Academy to send one of its students to UH. The remaining funds will be used to give back to the WCE for its various programs and activities.

“The statistics are that only 7 percent of Third Ward residents will ever graduate from college,” Wick said. “This is why we are so passionate about partnering with them and help their kids.”

Wick said nine fifth- and sixth-graders from the academy have been nominated to attend the summer camp, which is set for July 11. The children will spend the day with Wick and his team and listen to the words of motivational speaker John Demartini.

“Demartini travels the world 360 days a year to spread his message about overcoming obstacles,” Wick said. “I know the kids are going to be really excited.”

For any of this to happen, the team must raise as much money as they can in a month. Donations range from as little as $5 to as much as $10,000 on its website, where people can easily choose the amount they want to pay.

Team Chief Marketing Officer Karey Gallagher said that because of the team’s decision to use an online platform, its campaign has begun to create some buzz.

“We just went live with the website a few days ago, and we are starting to get a lot of recognition,” Gallagher said. “For instance, we did an interview with 104 KRBE, and now we have been asked a lot of questions, and a lot of people have been backing us. Most people are donating the small amounts, and we are going after the businesses for the bigger amounts, so we hope to be very successful.”

Wick said the team is working hard to get UH students involved. To do this, it has included a special section through which UH students can donate, and it has been looking for a good incentive to motivate them.

“It’s a $10 donation, because college students certainly don’t have a lot of cash to throw around,” Wick said. “But we spoke to various professors about offering extra credit, so there are a couple of classes going on where students can donate for extra credit. We want to get all the UH students involved on kind of a smaller level, because if we had 300 students that donated 10 bucks each, that’s a pretty significant contribution.”

If the team wins Wolffest, Wick said that many professors at UH are interested in making Dream It Houston annual.

“But there is only one way to do that, and that is being successful,” Wick said. “So it’s so important that we really blow this one out of the water. If we can do an annual project to go out and work with a charity and create a camp or project or a day for other people to get involved with UH and the Wolff Center, that would be really great.”

Wick said Wolffest is more than just a venue for competition; it is also a chance for students to give back to the school. He said his mission with the competition is not only to help his team win, but also to provide funds back to the WCE so it can continue doing the things that make their academic experience different.

“I was on the radio last week with Entrepreneurship Podcast Network, and I told them that the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship has transformed my college experience. It has changed my career path entirely, and my mission is to give back to the program at least three times what they gave to me,” Wick said. “Without funds, we can’t travel and compete in competitions. Next week, we have a team going to the Bahamas to complete an international competition. These things could not be possible if we didn’t have Wolffest, so it’s something that we are all incredibly passionate about.”

Cook said that what Wick and his team are doing is in direct alignment with what the C.T. Bauer College of Business is trying to accomplish. He also said WCE students are always encouraged to go above and beyond what previous years have done.

“When students are accepted into WCE, we try to shift their thinking from ‘What will I get out the WCE experience?’ to a better and higher question: ‘How will you change WCE to make it better than you found it?’” Cook said. “What Chris is doing exemplifies this higher purpose of creating extraordinary value to kids in the Third Ward, exemplifying the values of WCE and simulating the learning that has been shared with him. We expect each class to build on the successes of the prior students. WCE is a fun, exciting place to be, and Chris is one of the young entrepreneurs who is helping encourage the dreams of those around him.”

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