Posted May 2, 2017

Next stop: Connecting China and the U.S. through consulting—and cooking

With a self-started business and her own cooking show, Lei Zhao plans to build bridges between her native China and the U.S.

Lei Zhao holding a sign for her next stop, Starfish Kitchen.
Photography By: 
Ryan S. Brandenberg
In addition to creating a business, Lei Zhao has managed "Starfish Kitchen," a YouTube cooking show with a strong following.

Starting a company—or receiving a six-figure investment for it—is not something that many 23-year-olds can say they’ve accomplished. But Lei Zhao, a graduating senior, has done both.

After founding HeyHome Education Consulting Company in 2016, Zhao is beginning to pave her professional path—and that includes growing her popular online cooking show, “Starfish Kitchen.”

The YouTube show already has more than 2,000 subscribers, and now she’s hoping to expand its reach to U.S. audiences.

Zhao’s no stranger to building such bridges. It’s at the root of HeyHome, which seeks to connect high school students in her native China to safe environments and host families in the U.S.

HeyHome was an idea that Zhao, of Beijing, conceived by relating to other students who were expressing difficulties with their host families. Unlike other consulting companies, HeyHome’s mission involves making weekly visits to assess living situations, to ensure that students are enjoying their stays, and addressing the learning quality in U.S. schools.

“I wanted to extend my horizons because it’s a totally different culture here,” said Zhao, who will graduate from the Fox School of Business with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing. “I love to talk to different people and know their experiences so that I can learn from them and build my strength. I talked with my professors about the potential solution of all the issues I was hearing about, and went from there.”

After placing second in the 2016 Chunhuibei Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, held by the Consulate of China, Zhao’s determination led to meetings with possible investors to further the company’s development. With a $100,000 investment, Zhao plans to build HeyHome’s website and complete greater marketing research to build a firm customer base.

“I learned a lot from talking to so many investors and politicians,” Zhao added. “There were a lot of things that I didn’t know, such as the restrictions of starting a company. I talked to different investors about their offers, adjusted all of them, and chose the best one.”

Next, Zhao will pursue digital marketing work in one of three American cities—Boston, New York, or San Francisco—where the industry is booming. Shoring up the viability of HeyHome remains her goal. The website will begin testing in June, with an eventual launch in either July or early in the fall. She said Hey Home could benefit from a stronger customer base and increased investments, challenges that are not atypical of new entrepreneurs.

She will also to continue to double as an on-screen chef, too, trying new recipes while finding new audiences.

Zhao credits Temple and Fox for helping her to establish a strong footing for her professional future.

“Innovation is everywhere at Temple,” she said. “Fox is so innovative. I’m always hearing from students who have ideas or concepts, and then speak to their professors to receive advice on how to launch a business. That’s a strong point for Fox and this university.”

Carine Lavache and Christopher A. Vito