Historic Gift with Expected $15 Million Impact Ensures Continuity for Nation’s Top Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program

The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation Makes Second-Largest Donation in History of the C.T. Bauer College of Business

Cyvia Wolff signing 2019
Students from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship were on hand as Cyvia Wolff, left front, and UH President Renu Khator sign an agreement marking a historic gift from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation, given to ensure the nation’s No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program remains a top-tier program.

A historic gift expected to have a total impact of $15 million will ensure the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston remains in the nation’s top tier of entrepreneurship programs.

The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation has given a $13 million gift to UH for the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the nation’s No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program, and the landmark donation is expected to draw an additional $2 million matching grant from the state of Texas, bringing its total expected impact to $15 million.

The gift will ensure the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship remains a priority at UH and continues as a source of leadership and expertise on the topic. It is the second largest gift in the history of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, which houses the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Our family is deeply committed to the ideals of entrepreneurship,” said Cyvia Wolff. “Our business personified everything that it means to be an entrepreneur. The skills, the thinking, the mindset are fundamental to success for business leaders today and in the future. On behalf of my late husband, we are truly honored to ensure the entrepreneurial legacy not only endures but remains accessible for students. We are truly honored to be part of this program and university.”

The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship last month was named the No. 1 program in the nation for undergraduate education by The Princeton Review, and Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship students and graduates have launched more than 1,200 businesses within the past decade. The center is consistently ranked as one of the most innovative undergraduate programs in the world and integrates both the “head” and “heart” of the entrepreneur into the curriculum and immersive experiences.

It was launched in the mid-1990s and named for Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff in 2007, reflecting the deep personal involvement the Wolffs and members of their foundation have had with the program. Melvyn Wolff, former chairman of Star Furniture, passed away in 2017.

The gift comes as the city of Houston is focused on improving the city’s entrepreneurial climate.

“Entrepreneurship is crucial for the future of our country, as well as our city and state,” said UH President Renu Khator. “We are proud to be at the forefront of work around entrepreneurial training and research. The uniqueness of our program has and continues to make it the model program. This extraordinary gift ensures our leadership in this space will continue and will support the creation of businesses, change communities and impact our students’ lives.”

The foundational $13 million gift will be used to create three endowments for the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship:

  • $7 million to create the Dave Cook Leadership Endowment, named after center director Dave Cook, to support leadership roles within the Wolff Center to ensure its ongoing success
  • $4 million to create the Wolff Legacy Endowment, to support activities that will increase the number of students involved in the Wolff Center, increase the number of businesses created by Wolff Center students and alumni and continue the level of excellence reflected in its top national rankings
  • $2 million to create the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Endowed Chair(s)/Professorship(s) in Entrepreneurship, supporting new research in entrepreneurship, expanding student participation in entrepreneurship across the University and increasing community outreach

The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship undergraduate program has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country by the Princeton Review for nine of the past 12 years, and Bauer Dean Paul A. Pavlou said the gift will ensure the programming, mentoring and outreach that has led to such success continues into the future. “We are passionate about entrepreneurship and how it can forever change students’ lives. We seek to further promote entrepreneurship as a university-wide, even citywide effort, by collaborating within and across the university in a multitude of areas, such as technology, health care, arts and sports,” Pavlou said.

The gift also will allow the program to continue serving a wide spectrum of students: about 2,500 UH students take at least one entrepreneurship course every year, and more than 700 complete multicourse certificate programs.

Students who have taken entrepreneurship classes at UH within the past decade have started 1,270 businesses, with identified funding of just over $268 million.

Dave Cook, who has worked with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship since 2007 and was named director in 2017, said the endowments ensure the program will continue to be among the nation’s best.

“What we are doing is transformative in the lives of students, mentors and stakeholders in a way that elevates everyone towards excellence,” Cook said. “The impact of this gift allows us to remain the leader and to move forward with confidence, purpose and permanence.”

The program’s emphasis on using mentors and instructors with real-life entrepreneurial experience won’t change, Cook said. “Our mission is to connect our students with people who have walked the same path the students hope to walk. These are the people who share the values of the Wolff Center, people like Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff.”