As an international student, Lei Zhao understands how challenging it can be to find the right place to live.
“A lot of my friends had problems with their homestay, and those homestay coordinating companies didn’t really care for them,” said Zhao, a graduating marketing major.
Homestay is a popular accommodation among international students that allows them to live with local families when they study abroad.
Hang Yuan, a sophomore international business major from China, said he had problems with his homestay when he was in high school. His host family in California wasn’t cooking for him, even though that was a part of the agreement. The agency who introduced him to this family wouldn’t help him resolve the issue.
This made Zhao want to create her own homestay coordinating company that cares more about its clients.
Zhao, originally from Beijing, founded the HeyHome Education Consulting Company last summer, which helps Chinese students connect with American host families. The business assists students in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston and Emporia, Kansas.
Zhao came to the United States in 2012 to study at Emporia State University in Kansas for a year. She took a year off school and then transferred to Temple in 2014.
“I learned strategies and skills such as advertising campaign and business negotiation at Temple, and I developed my own marketing research [for HeyHome],” Zhao said.
She said she felt somewhat stuck in Kansas and struggled to learn about business.
“I just feel international students [have it] very tough in the U.S. and when I came to Philadelphia, I feel like I [could] really do something to help them,” Zhao said.
In August 2016, she helped a family friend come to the U.S. for high school and find a homestay. That was her first client.
She kept looking for other opportunities, which led her to a business competition in New York City last summer, around the same time she had her first customer. Zhao participated in the Chunhui Cup, a global competition organized by the Chinese government for Chinese international students to present their ideas on starting a business.
Zhao won second place.
As a winner, she was brought to China by the competition organizer to meet investors. She traveled to Shanghai, Suzhou and Shenzhen in China and talked to about 10 different investing companies.
This January, she received $100,000 from a Chinese investor, who is also one of her distant relatives.
Zhao currently has three employees, one of whom is a Temple student, and she hopes to continue to grow her business. She plans to launch a website this August, hire 10 more employees and expand her work to either Boston, New York or San Francisco.
So far, HeyHome has helped 11 international students find their homestay in the U.S.
Gang Yang, who works for HeyHome as an IT technician, said that Zhao was “born” to be a businessperson.
“In my mind, entrepreneur[s are] the type of people who try to do something and change the world,” said Yang, who is from China. “Even though they are standing in the crowd, you can still see their desire and enthusiasm. When I see her, and working with her, I just know she is this kind of person.”
Bilin Lin can be reached at email@example.com.