This week is all about celebrating entrepreneurship in action, as #UHBauer students from the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship take over the UH campus for Wolffest, a three-day pop-up food festival that puts their startup skills to the test while raising money for scholarships.
Here, we share just a few stories of #UHBauer alumni who have found success with entrepreneurial endeavors after graduation.
Ryan Soroka (MBA/MS 2011)
Co-founder, 8th Wonder Brewery
Founded in 2013, 8th Wonder has scaled rapidly into a craft beer brand that can be found in supermarkets, bars and restaurants across Houston.
In 8th Wonder’s first year, Ryan Soroka and his partners produced just under 1,000 barrels. Last year, after only four years in business, they produced around 12,000, making 8th Wonder one of Houston’s largest craft breweries.
“When we opened our doors, we were the sixth brewery to open in Houston, and now there are almost 50,” Soroka said. “It’s exciting, and we’re happy to be part of the local craft beer scene.”
Caroline Ferguson (BBA ’18)
Founder, Grateful & Company
As a student, Bauer alumna Caroline Ferguson (BBA ’18) launched Grateful & Company, an online store for gratitude-themed lifestyle products, including apparel, posters, journals, cards and mugs. A portion of the profits from each sale will benefit suicide-prevention and mental health programs on college campuses, using the University of Houston as a pilot.
“I’ve historically done life very fast,” Ferguson said. “I’ve always been on this quick route.” That drive and determination, she added, comes from growing up early — something she sees more as a blessing than a problem.
Bauer MBA candidate
Co-founder, Small Places
Along with two of his brothers, MBA candidate Mark Garcia-Prats created Small Places, an urban farm that focuses on making agriculture accessible and engaging for Houston’s Second Ward community.
As a literature undergraduate who eventually became a schoolteacher and principal, Garcia-Prats didn’t really imagine that one day, he’d be working to revive Houston’s agricultural movement as a small business owner, but the seeds of entrepreneurship may have been there all along.
“Often, entrepreneurship is thought of as starting a business,” he said. “But I see it as a way of creating culture. Artists are entrepreneurs. Educators are entrepreneurs. You’re being creative in your city and community, and I think the skills I’m learning in the MBA program apply across the board.”
Melissa Emekli (MBA ’11)
President & CEO, Markka
Melissa Emekli never really pictured herself as an entrepreneur — her professional dreams were more along the lines of thriving in her role as part of an established business, led by someone else.
But two years ago, what seemed so certain changed, and Emekli found herself a casualty of massive layoffs in Houston’s oil and gas industry.
Emekli decided to pursue small business ownership, launching her own marketing consulting company, Markka, dedicated to serving organizations in the Houston area that don’t have a formal marketing department.
As president and CEO of Markka, Emekli also leads all strategy and operations for the startup, which works with clients to provide affordable, fresh marketing solutions, cultivated to meet their needs. She uses her marketing background to develop marketing strategies for clients, including outbound communications, brand management, sales support, event management, education and training, and tradeshows.
Robert De Los Santos (BBA ’10)
Founder & CEO, Sky High Party Rentals
As founder and CEO of Sky High Party Rentals, Robert De Los Santos (BBA ’10) leads one of Houston’s premier companies for moon bounce house rentals, with a huge line of themed bounce houses that transform the average backyard into a dream playground for children’s birthday parties. The company also provides inflatables for football parties or other gatherings, as well as water slides, tables, chairs and other concessions.
Just over 10 years in business, Sky High Party Rentals has seen remarkable growth — each year, gaining new employees and inventory, servicing over 7,000 parties a year. The business has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, The Huffington Post, Mashable and the Houston Business Journal. In addition, De Los Santos and Sky High have earned a number of awards, including the Emerging 10 Houston Minority Supplier Development Award, Angie’s List Super Service Award, the United Nations Empact 100 Award, a place on the Houston Business Journal’s Fast 100 List, and has won a place on the Cougar 100 Awards year-after-year. In 2016, after seeing an increase in demand, the company moved to a 35,000-square-foot facility in Houston’s Oak Forest area.
“I love what I do because I’ve found a huge opportunity to affect how thousands of people enjoy their kids’ birthdays each year,” said De Los Santos, who earned his undergraduate degree in business from Bauer College in 2010.
Clara Hough (BBA ’02)
Owner & President, House of Hough
Bauer alumna Clara Hough (BBA ’02) started her business 13 years ago with a few swatches, and herself. She’d go to bridal shows looking for clients who might want to rent her special occasion linens, then arrange to meet up with them later, maybe at a Starbucks or their chosen venue, to talk about napkins, tablecloths and runners for their big day.
Today, Hough has 12 full-time employees, plus another 10 part-timers. Her company — which maintains a lovely, sunlit showroom and expansive warehouse on West 25th Street in The Heights neighborhood of Houston — provided linens to 1,110 events in 2017.