The path to business success is seldom easy, but young entrepreneurs are getting some sound advice and motivation through Houston Community College Southwest programs that are designed to promote business.

HCC Southwest serves vast areas of Fort Bend and Harris counties, including Houston’s 5 Corners District. HCC Southwest includes the West Loop and Brays Oaks campuses near the 5 Corners sections of the city’s southern and southwest areas.

Maya Durnovo

“Our entrepreneurial mission at HCC is to bolster the local economy, create jobs, and build Houston’s ecosystem by starting and growing small businesses, including minority, micro, veteran, and women-owned businesses,” said Maya Durnovo, HCC’s chief entrepreneurial officer.

While no for-credit business programs are available at the HCC South Campus on 1990 Airport Blvd., Houston 77051—  the sole HCC campus within the Five Corners District — all HCC campuses offer a virtual version of the Entrepreneur Program through the Small Business Workshops series available free of charge to those who successfully sign up in advance at the campus where they are offered. 

The next sessions at South Campus starting Sept. 21 “Vet the Venture” — assisting entrepreneurs in determining the financial liability of their business idea and growth plan. 

A second session, “Ignite the Entrepreneur in You,” addresses understanding successful business traits and leadership skills.

Current and future sessions include:

  • Oct. 12 and 14, “Financials for Small Business,” or how to understand the numbers and how to enlarge and estimate what each entrepreneur and funders need to know to propel the business to sustained success.
  • Oct. 19 and 21, “Managing Risk, Protecting Assets, Business and Future,” addresses liability and tax Requirements in business organization, including insurance, hiring employees and independent contracts.

Applicants chosen to participate in the Program will be contacted by e-mail. For more information about the HCC South Campus Entrepreneur workshops, call 713-718-6650 or email [email protected].

The Entrepreneur Program offered at the West Loop and Brays Oaks campuses consists of non-credit classes and workshops also offered online for anyone interested in starting or growing a business, Durnovo said.

The HCC Entrepreneurial Program in 2020 won the Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award from the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurs, and the Diversity in Business Award from Houston Business Journal.

One such successful program is Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, which partners with HCC to provide small business owners practical business courses, financial capital and networking opportunities. The program has graduated 835 small businesses, she said.

The HCC Entrepreneurial Program also includes minority business development and programs for women, pairing participants with contracts, money sources and connections to local resources. Meanwhile, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program offers cutting-edge technology training from Microsoft to help veterans to start and grow a business. 

Other virtual offerings include programs for bilinguals, women of color and small business owners who want to learn the basics of exporting goods or services and become proficient sellers.

Ravi Brahmbhatt

Ravi Brahmbhatt, who runs the program at HCC Southwest, organizes workshops, mentorship opportunities for students and program participants from the 5 Corners District. Especially popular are “hackathon” and “pitch” competitions for students to design solutions to real-world problems brought to them by local business owners.

“I am very thankful to the community business leaders who come to our competitions and become mentors, leading to local, national and international business recognition for our students,” Brahmbhatt said.

Students also network with area businesses and connect with “angel investors” who offer start-up funding for the promising entrepreneurs. 

 Brahmbhatt helps organize about 15 workshops each month for students and community participants. The entrepreneurial programs are free to the public and community participants.

Students who take part in the program are rising to the top of the business world.

Mohammed Almani, 32, who arrived in the United States in 2013 as a refugee from the Iraq War, used crowd funding to develop a website to help HCC students to fund their education – “sort of like Go Fund Me, but for students,” he said.

While holding down two jobs, Almani eventually shifted his focus to funding businesses. He developed Fundgrow, assisting businesses in the Houston Galleria and Five Corners areas and conducting workshops for students from the HCC West Loop campus.

“Even with the virus, my company has grown to four employees, and I have clients all over Houston, San Diego, California, and Fairfax, Virginia,” he said.

Kanisha Ffriend is another success story. She moved to Houston in 2019 and has grown her business, HeirBloomCo., focused on helping expectant mothers. While much has changed, she said, the business mission remains the same: “Have the birth you deserve with full-spectrum support from pregnancy to postpartum: Calm, confident.”

Ffriend enrolled in the nursing program at HCC and met Brahmbahtt, who encouraged her to enter her business in the 2020 Pitch competition, where she won the top prize of $5,000. She used the money to increase production and distribution of Lactation Cookies to increase the supply and quality of expectant mothers’ breast milk.

She also added new products to her national shipping inventory. She said her products include pregnancy pain relief, bath products to promote healing, and a variety of skin products.

Ffriend was selected to HCC’s Board of Entrepreneurs to help others start and grow businesses in the Houston area.

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— by Betty Martin