WOLFF CENTER FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP DIRECTOR DAVE COOK SAYS THE STUDENTS ARE WHAT SETS BAUER COLLEGE’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAM APART FROM OTHERS.
Living the Dream
Bauer's Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship Director Shares Visions, Goals for Program
Enter Dave Cook’s office, and it’s clear — he’s living the dream.
The walls are papered in photos of students from Bauer College’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship (WCE), where he serves as director. And in fact, he’s got a large sign behind his desk with the quote, “Living the Dream.”
Each photo and knick knack tells a story about the impact Cook has made on entrepreneurship students at Bauer College.
Cook, who is three times retired and has held various selling and entrepreneurial roles in his lifetime, has made a career out of supporting others and inspiring students to live their dreams.
We recently sat down with Cook to get his insight on the program and to share what’s next.
Q: How has your personal entrepreneurial experience prepared you for your role?
A: I think we all are the sum of our success, and perhaps more importantly, our failures. Along the way, there were a number of ventures that didn’t work and a lot of situations that didn’t work and out of that, I’m comfortable in espousing the values that we now teach in this program. At the WCE, it is all about relationships. Do people trust you? Can they count on you? Are your values the kind of values that are going to create a long-term relationship? Our approach is very much driven around that it’s ok to fail, but don’t fail at the big things.
Q: What’s your vision for the Wolff Center?
A: My vision for WCE is, as a director, primarily to change the lives of every student in this program professionally and personally. I want to change their lives for the better. I want it to change them to exemplify their values and lead them to their dreams.
My job, and everyone’s job at WCE, is to provide resources to get them into the future. I don’t want this to be a one-man show. I am surrounding myself with anybody who is quality and wants to make a difference. We will welcome them with open arms. My intent is to have at every layer lots of resources.
Another vision is, “How do I take this goodwill and these resources and push that accountability and responsibility down?” I’ve got wonderful people that have come in and are trying to give back. Whether you want to coach, teach, mentor, give us money, we want you here.
Finally, I think Melvyn (Wolff, who passed away in 2017 and made a naming gift to support the program with his wife Cyvia in 2008), when he was here, I said to him “What do you expect, how can we make this WCE better?” His response was, “Dave, you figured out how to do great things when they are in the program, what we’ve got to do is figure out how to take that and push it outside the program.” Whether it is through our alumni association, or starting a business, or pushing into the community or mentoring programs, how do we take the culture, the training, the learning, and the energy we have created here, and transform that into good deeds out in the community?
Q: What’s your perspective on teaching entrepreneurship, and the value of small businesses to Houston and to the United States?
A: Entrepreneur education is experiential. We’re running over 30 programs outside the classroom, and they are all designed to simulate and replicate the things we’re teaching in class. There is no way that I can take theory and have the same outcome. Everything is a culmination of excellence in learning.
I believe (Bauer College Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship chair) Ed Blair, without question, is one of the highest-rated professors we have in the classroom. Our classroom experience is as good as anything on earth, but what makes us different is to take that and create simulations and repetition to give them the confidence that they not only understand the idea, but they are comfortable to apply it in a real situation.
In regard to small businesses, small business is where it is. In Houston over the last 10 years, they’ve created 500,000 jobs, and most of those are coming from small businesses. In those last 10 years, there were 68,000 companies created in Houston, and interestingly, all growth from that is coming from women- and minority-owned businesses, which is the university’s sweet spot. That’s who we are. What we try and do with our class is to create that same diversity. That’s where the energy from growth is coming.
Q: Tell me about WCE — its programs, its offerings and opportunities for students. What sets it apart from other entrepreneurship programs?
A: Our students are what makes our program so different. They are inspired. They are driven. I’ve got kids from nine countries who moved here just in hopes of getting in the program. We have every ethnic and economic variety. We are the city of Houston, and we are the future of the country.
If it’s one thing we preach to our kids is that when you leave this program, you are in control of your life. You can’t control what happens to you, but you control your reaction, and you get to make the choices based on your values and dreams of how you want to live your life. That to me is what entrepreneurship is about. Finding that passion to really be in control of your world and the choices in your life.
That’s what this program does. The passion to create businesses is stronger than any difference that separates and divides us. When I look at what the WCE is and how are we are different and how can we compete against Ivy League, number one is our students are different and better. They don’t mind getting dirty, and they are not entitled. They are absolutely engaged in an inspiring way and it brings people to us.
Second, we’ve got a mentoring program unlike anything else in the world. We’re in the most entrepreneurial city in the globe, and they want to help other entrepreneurs. Tapping into that makes it different in WCE.
I think if I were to look at what else makes us different, it is these outside programs. How many people get to go and have lunch with Warren Buffett? This program, in a very real sense, creates experiences that are transformative, but at the heart, is the kindness and generosity that creates a family. These people would kill for one another; they love one another. It is what makes our program different.
When you look at what makes a program great, I would say this alignment of having the dean share your values, the department shares values, and the people around me, the mentors, faculty, everyone is here with one common goal — how do we make their lives better? We are here to help you figure out what you want in your life and live your dreams.
Q: Since its inception, WCE has continuously been ranked top in the nation, students are breaking records with intellectual property business plans, and more. How do you keep topping that?
A: The minute we got our No. 2 ranking this year, Cyvia sent me a text saying “Glad your ranking is up, can’t wait to see what you’re going to do to become No. 1.” So my answer is, I don’t know, but I will tell you that what we do this year will be different than what we did last year, and what we do next year, is different than what we do this year. The only thing we’re committed to is improvement. We want our students, our mentors, and our curriculum to get better.
We are creating seeds that we’re going to send out in to the community, and when they start their companies, the values they learned here, what we preach about having a purpose, the value of relationships, having discipline, all of those values are going to be put into play in their own companies.