By now, any Coog should be familiar with the Wolff Center For Entrepreneurship, Bauer’s jewel ranking #1 in the nation among other entrepreneurial programs. They’re hard to miss, boasting a heavy social media presence and a number of on-campus events. The most notable of which is Wolffest. Cooglife sat down with five of Wolffest’s CEOs to learn about the program and what it takes to put on an event like Wolffest.
What started as a burger-based fundraiser has grown into a full-fledged food festival raising over $250,00 in sales and donations. It was a way for Bauer students to showcase the skills the Wolff center had taught them. Over the years, the scale of the project and the relationships with the vendors have grown in both scope and complexity, better showcasing the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur.
Part of Wolffest’s continued success is due to their big-brother big-sister system, giving each graduating class the opportunity to train their replacements and introduce them to their business connections before passing down the baton.
“The program is a three-semester long program,” explained Nathan Smith. “The first year you’re in the program, you’re going to be with the senior class, you’ll get paired up with the current seniors that are running office. The next semester, you’re by yourself. We [the current seniors] have a junior class, the honor team, they’re part of the major program. But also we have volunteers that we can reach out to any one of your friends like people in Bauer, mostly people who want to get in the program. They’ll join because this is their way of getting their name out there.”
The application process
Being known as a good worker, a cooperative person and a friendly face is a great way to get a leg up on your application process if you have your heart set on the Wolff Center. The program is open to all college majors, although Bauer students are favored.
The program has a lot to offer. Its national notoriety and unique teaching methods have applicants lining up every fall. However, the program is very selective.
“It [the Wolff center] only selects between 30 and 40 students every year, and even now it’s getting lower,” explained Miguel Alvarez. “It’s now it’s up to like 28 students per year, out of over 200 applicants every year.”
Getting into the program is not something one can do on a whim. Preferably, one would apply during their junior year. Once your initial application is accepted, the interview process begins.
“You go through a series of interviews,” said Alvarez. “You also have to make a video and write a couple of essays. It’s a very extensive thing. They have to get to know you personally. And beyond that, you have to be volunteering for things Wolff does.
So you’re in. Now what?
Once you’re in is when the work really starts. You can expect your time in the program to be filled with retreats, team-building, specialized classes, networking, and more. Naturally, a lot of effort is put towards preparing for Wolffest. This is something to look at logistically and financially, but it also is hugely dependent on networking. The companies that partner with the students don’t just show up for a few days and then leave. They expect the students to keep in contact, fulfill popup obligations, and prove to them they are valuable mutual assets to each other. Joshua Vergara stresses the importance of maintaining these relationships not just for your sake, but for the sake of the students that come after.
“We go out, we coordinate. Each of these teams will have contacts that we get from previous years, from previous seniors that establish connections with these local or corporate businesses,” explained Vergara “But a lot of the connections that we make go from door-to-door, cold calling, cold emails, just showing up and veering out how we can provide some value to them while they can sponsor or bring value to us in some way.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
There is an air of friendly competition between the seniors, all divided into teams racing to be the top earner in both revenue and donations, but it’s all in good jest.
“We are placed in a cluster, they separate us in eight different teams,” explained Nicolle Carroll. “All of us are competing to raise the most money for student scholarships.”
This year, students can expect hotdogs, horchata, fried chicken, halal, crawfish- and everything in between! They can also expect a few non-food vendors to spice things up and offer things for the more material-minded.
Wolffest now has become not only a three-day food festival that we do towards the end of March, but also it’s like a six-month fundraising effort, where we have also tagged along a gala at the end to celebrate entrepreneurship.
Though a recent edition, the gala promises to be an integral part of the program for years to come. Firmly believers in the power of networking and community, the gala serves as a way to celebrate the success of Wolffest and showcase Wolff’s work to the guests and patrons in attendance. The tickets to the gala range in price, with all proceeds going to fund projects and scholarships for Wolff Center students in the coming semesters.
“The whole purpose of the Gala is to not only highlight the efforts of entrepreneurship within the University of Houston and our work at the Wolff Center, but expand entrepreneurship. Expand the brand,” said Josh Vergara.
Shazeen Jahaver, this year’s gala CEO, agrees, stressing the importance of branding.
“We aim to expand the brand of Wolff Center out into the Houston area and create that community of entrepreneurship,” said Jahaver. “There’s so many business owners in Houston, there’s so many people that are innovating. It’s important that we all connect as a community because we can all help each other out. So that’s kind of what we’re trying to do for the gala, just to connect our students and our program with their entrepreneurial community in Houston to create a new hub for innovation.”
Wolffest is taking place from March 28 to March 30 in Butler Plaza, right in front of the library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Extended hours will be availible on the 28th and 29th to accomodate those celebrating Ramadan.