By Bingqing Mao
The Meridian Times
Michigan State University
International Student Center Advisor
The increasing numbers of Michigan State University students coming from other countries, especially China, are not only stimulating the local economy, they are starting businesses here.
Meridian TownshipTreasurer Julie Brixie said, “MSU students starting their businesses in Meridian Township is terrific! We love having the influence of students with their youth, vitality and energy on the business scene in the township.
“Attracting young people to our community helps us remain sustainable. In today’s global economy, youth matters tremendously. We are trying to provide the quality of life that all residents, including young people, want from their community.”
Bowen Kou, Jeff Wu and Yuanzhe Zhuang are three Chinese student whose stories show entrepreneurship from different angles.
Bowen Kou: Experiences are very important.
Bowen Kou is very famous among Chinese MSU students and he is regarded as the pioneer in student entrepreneurs. He owns two markets: Oriental Mart and Great China Market. He is also a copartner of Straight A bookstore and Chapelure (a cafe and cake shop).
He said, “I think I am also just getting started. Entrepreneurship and running businesses are different, you need to have a big picture. I wish I could do better in the future, improve student entrepreneurs’ confidences and communicate more with them.”
He did various jobs before opening markets: he applied for a job at the college cafeteria, but he was rejected; he collected used books and he also used to be a reseller.
By collecting used books and reselling, he earned 20 percent of the fund used for purchasing two markets. The remaining 80 percent came from his parents.
He said, “The 20 percent is very essential, which means you have the ability to run the business, so your parents trust you to invest the rest … ”
However, after he took over the two markets, he found it was more complicated and difficult than he thought. These two markets were run by two different families, but Kou only had himself. At that time, he didn’t have store managers or purchaser teams. What was worse, he had no experiences. In the beginning, he did almost everything alone. When Great China Market lacked goods, he transshipped goods from Oriental Mart overnight. This lasted for a half year. Then he built his team.
“I think once you have a proper project and right operation mode, the business would get better. And when the business is on track, you need to think of how to copy this successful model. Because of high profits, you won’t feel tired.” Kou said.
Now his businesses are on track. Many people asked him for the key to success. He said that it was to be honest with partners and employees.
“You must be honest so that your partners and employees would trust you. It is very dangerous when your business expands, but if your employees deceive you, the situation is more difficult to handle.
In addition, the ability to judge the marketing environment is also significant. When talking about entrepreneurship, most Chinese students would say open a Chinese restaurant or Karaok, whose customer base is Chinese. However, Kou said the environment has changed.
He said, “In Michigan, the unemployment reduced from 14.2 percent in August 2009 to 7.7 percent in July 2014. The purchasing power of Americans increased a lot. On the other hand, even though there were many Chinese students at MSU, the number would decrease. If you only do business with Asians or Chinese in United States, the market would be smaller and smaller.”
Therefore, he opens Chapelure, which focuses on American residents. He said it was sensible, because most customers are American.
“You need to get prepared to fail,” Kou said, “I don’t suggest investing all the money in the first try. My first failed, my second try failed, but my third try succeeded.
“Experiences are very important.”
Yuanzhe Zhuang: Maybe the best choice for a student is to study
Yuanzhe Zhuang and her friend bought a hot-pot restaurant last year. Like Kou Bowen, she also met lots of problem: negotiating with the previous owners to sign the contract, preparing lots of documents to get the food license, difficulty finding cooks,not knowing where to buy fresh ingredients and so on.
Before she took over the restaurant, its reputation was low, she said. She tried many things to win back customers.
“We give students who live near us a feeling like home with a food type which is unique and different and Chinese authentic. Sometimes we will get group reservations and birthday reservations and so on. Now we have more and more returning customers.”
At the same time, she also got pressure from her family. Even though her mother gave her the money to buy the restaurant, she did not give her tuition and forced her to make a choice: business or study.
Zhuang said that at the winter break The State News interviewed her about how to keep the balance between business and studying, she thought she could handle both sides. But now she has further considerations.
“Maybe the best choice for a student is to study. I saw many students stop their businesses because of losing passion. As a result, the business became the unfinished project in a folder. People rely too much on common sense and think ideas and passion are everything.”
“I am thinking about selling the Mr. Pot, because I really love journalism and public relations. I am already one year later than others. I don’t want to give up them because of my business,” Zhuang said, “I am also reluctant, for I paid so much time and passion on it and it gets better and better. However, in the future, I still need professional knowledge…”
Jeff Wu: I don’t encourage students to start businesses
The area code for East Lansing is 517 and that is also the name of a food delivery service, whose Chinese pronunciation is similar to “I want to eat.” Wu said he originally wanted customers to enjoy the better delivery service
517 provides restaurants with special equipment, through which every order would directly go to restaurants. It alerts when an order comes and prints the order automatically. Furthermore they developed a just-in-time Intelligent Logistics System to reduce waiting time. During the winter break, Wu flew to Guangzhou alone to do the roadshow, and got his first Angel funding.
When talked about giving advice to students who want to start a business, he said he did not encourage students it.
“I don’t want people to think that to be a boss is a very proud thing,” Wu said, “Entrepreneurship is not as simple as ‘I want to work tomorrow.’ You need to have a good project firstly. It is not a form, a goal, a destination; it is progress.”
Michigan State University
China Entrepreneur Network member