What does it take to transform a life and stimulate urban renewal? The formula is simple, says University of Houston professor Saleha Khumawala: Education + perseverance x expert guidance = success.

A microfinance whiz, Khumawala is the founding director of UH’s SURE program, which stands for Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship. Since its launch in 2012, Khumawala, her students and community partners have guided more than 700 Houston-area residents through the ambitious program.

“The entrepreneurs who come to us are those who are committed to their business idea or those that have an existing business and want to scale it but don’t know how,” Khumawala said.

Shannette Prince learned of SURE through the Emancipation Economic Development Council of Houston, which partners with the university to find worthy program candidates. Prince is the proud proprietor of Africa On My Back, which produces and sells backpacks and other accessories handmade by artisans in Ghana, West Africa.

SURE equipped Prince with a stronger business foundation and a powerful lending network. As a result, she is turning a profit and contributing back to her community through area non-profit organizations that mentor young men like her two sons.

“What I can now do for my children is great, but to be able to help and impact another child’s life is what we are all about,” explained Prince.

SURE provides entrepreneurs like Prince with a consultant and the knowledge they need to achieve their goal. Many participants are women, veterans and minorities from under-resourced communities such as Houston’s Third Ward. Other participants lack access to capital, to education or to a marketplace. While there is no financial fee to take part in UH’s 12-week program, participants must invest their time and energy.

“We have quite a few entrepreneurs who come from the Third Ward. And they come to us not just because of the education, but because they want to stay and start businesses and lift up the very neighborhood that they grew up in,” Khumawala said.

Serving as consultants, UH students work to bolster the fledgling entrepreneurs’ personal and professional financial literacy, deepen their knowledge in areas such as supply chain management, accounting and logistics, and prepare for their pitch to banks and organizations like Wells Fargo, LiftFund and Kiva that may bankroll their business plans.
Khumawala wants her students to gain empathy and all the soft skills needed for today’s competitive job market. SURE is an opportunity for the UH students to test their knowledge in a practical and social learning laboratory.

“It was inspiring to see so many people coming together to help one another achieve their dreams and improve their community,” said Brinda Pinmesta, a 2018 UH Bauer College of Business graduate who participated as a consultant and believes empowering people is the key to the program’s success.

SURE is one of several UH programs supporting its Third Ward Initiative. Under the leadership of President Renu Khator, UH is committed to improving educational outcomes, securing jobs, developing and strengthening businesses, identifying and responding to the social and cultural issues affecting health, and celebrating the arts, culture and history of the area.

“Beyond the 26 businesses that have been created or expanded through SURE, the most important change has been the hope that is created when the graduates move forward with confidence,” said Elwyn C. Lee, UH vice president for Neighborhood & Strategic Initiatives.
“They now know that UH is a partner that they can count on.”