Instructor Team

Entrepreneurship Success Initiative

ESI works with entrepreneurship specialists who conduct our workshops and training programs. Highlighted instructors include:

Hesam Panahi is a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the Jones School of Business at Rice University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on entrepreneurship. He previously founded RED Labs, the startup accelerator and technology entrepreneurship program at the University of Houston, where he received his Ph.D. and a BBA in Management Information Systems.


Melanie Jones is a recognized leader and creative thinker among Houston’s startup and marketing communities. She is Managing Director of Marketing Interface, which she founded to help startups and growth-stage companies achieve their goals. Prior to pursuing her entrepreneurial vision, Melanie was Director of Marketing at the SURGE Accelerator (now SURGE Ventures), managing everything from marketing and PR to communications and events.

Melanie holds a BA in International Development from McGill University, Montreal, and an MBA from Rice University, Houston. She is a member of numerous industry associations and an active mentor at Rice University’s OwlSpark program and the University of Houston’s RED Labs.

Kyle Judah is a two time EdTech entrepreneur with a passion for solving big problems affecting schools and student learning. He was the co-founder and CEO at RecoVend, which helped schools get more bang for their budget through streamlined, collaborative purchasing, and BetaMatch, which helped get cutting edge EdTech into the hands of tech savvy, early adopting educators. He is currently a remote Entrepreneur in Residence with 4.0 Schools, an education innovation lab that identifies and nurtures ideas that have the potential to have a large scale impact on the education industry.

Currently, Kyle helps prepare student entrepreneurs to change the world as the Program Director and Entrepreneur in Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. At MIT he also runs the Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA), the premier university accelerator in the world, and capstone experiential learning opportunity for student entrepreneurs. You can findKyle sharing his thoughts on education, startups and technology by following him on Twitter at @KyleJudah

Austin Carlson is  a licensed attorney and a Certified Public Accountant,.Austin’s practice focuses on corporate transactions, tax planning and controversy, and trust and estate planning. He works with domestic and international companies, small businesses, and individuals to form corporations, LLCs, partnerships and non-profit entities, achieve their planning goals and successfully resolve their tax controversies with the IRS and state taxing authorities. Austin also has extensive experience with the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, including the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and assisting clients with all types of foreign account disclosure issues.

In addition, Austin is an active member of multiple professional organizations including Texas Society of CPAs and Houston CPA Society, where he serves on the Boards of Directors and the State Bar of Texas where he has served as chair of the International Tax Committee.

Austin received his J.D., with honors, from The University of Texas School of Law, and B.B.A. in Accounting and M.S. in Taxation from Texas A&M University. He is also a  graduate of the Tax Section Leadership Academy of the State Bar of Texas and was recognized as a “Rising Star” by the Texas Society of CPAs.

Devin Cook is the Executive Producer of the Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC), an international program that celebrates organizations addressing a grand challenge of our time – to create shared prosperity by reinventing the future of work. Launched at MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy under Devin’s leadership, the IIC awards $1 million to Inclusive Innovators that create economic opportunity for the many and not just the few in the digital age.

Devin’s expertise lies in accelerating entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ecosystems for economic growth. As a Fulbright Scholar in India, Devin examined entrepreneurship as a driver of economic development among textile artisans. She holds an MBA from MIT, where she engaged in research and theory development with leading innovation and entrepreneurship faculty and trained in design thinking. Devin received the Ronald I. Heller Award for her substantial contribution to entrepreneurial spirit and activity on campus. With practical experience working at multiple start-ups, as well as leading international projects and seminars for Fortune 100 clients, Devin brings a deep understanding of how solutions that address the world’s biggest challenges can be scaled up to achieve maximum positive impact.

Devin is a Jurist for the INDEX: Award, the world’s largest design prize. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Socially Responsible and Sustainable Apparel Business from the University of Delaware and a BA from Middlebury College.