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University of Houston announces free tuition program for lower-income students

Students from certain backgrounds can attend UH for free this fall. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

A major Houston hall of higher education is making national news for its goodwill towards students from low-and-middle-class backgrounds.

The University of Houston announced a new initiative, Cougar Promise, that guarantees tuition and mandatory fees will be covered for eligible freshmen from families with adjusted gross incomes up to $65,000. Students admitted by January 15 who are starting in the fall and who demonstrate financial need are eligible for the program. The program has been covered by CNN and Yahoo News.

As an added effort to assist more students, eligible freshmen from families with adjusted gross incomes between $65,001 and $125,000 will be eligible for tuition support ranging from $500 to $2,000 per year. The assistance is significant, as UH tuition can range from $5,000 to $7,000 per term. Some 74 percent of UH undergraduate students receive some form of financial assistance, according to the university.

The Cougar Promise income threshold has more than doubled since the program started in 2008 when only students with family incomes up to $30,000 were eligible.

"Making college education affordable and accessible is at the foundation of our mission and critical for so many aspiring students across the income spectrum," says Renu Khator, University of Houston president, in a statement. "By expanding our financial support program to reduce financial barriers, we will help more students fulfill their dreams of earning a college degree."

UH's famous booster and benefactor, billionaire Tilman Fertitta, voiced his support of the program. "Your family's income bracket shouldn't limit your ability to achieve a college degree," said Fertitta, UH's chairman of the UHS Board of Regents. "Talented people come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, so I'm thrilled there will be more financial aid available for those UH students who need it most."

This isn't the first time a Houston university has made a bold move to help students in need. In 2018, Rice University made headlines for a program offering free and low-cost tuition to students from middle-class families.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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