Recently, Yu Hongmei, a 39-year-old female entrepreneur in the Xinzhou District of Wuhan City, said that she would donate 1 million yuan to establish a fund to support students at her alma mater, Wuhan Radio and Television University (Wuhan RTVU).

She said that her journey to success was through step by step guidance from Wuhan RTVU. That journey gave her a deep understanding of entrepreneurs’ hardships. She was thankful for her alma mater, and wished to subsidise young people like her with entrepreneurial dreams. At the same time, she also welcomed her junior fellow schoolmates to join her company. Last month, Wuhan Phoenix Village Folk Culture Expo Park, in which she invested nearly 100 million yuan, officially opened. “If I failed to study at the RTVU, or ask that question in class, I wouldn’t have made these achievements today,” Yu Hongmei said emotionally.

Four years ago, she went door to door collecting used barrels.

Today, Yu Hongmei owns several enterprises, with an annual output valued at over RMB 50 million. She is the chairwoman of Wuhan Yuhongmei Antique Gardens Co., Ltd., and Wuhan Denghui Furniture Co., Ltd., the curator of the Phoenix Village Folk Culture Museum of Xinzhou District, Wuhan City, the vice chairwoman of the Hubei Collectors Association, the vice chairwoman of the Hubei Council for Promotion of Innovation and Development at Enterprises, and an antique appraiser. She was also awarded with the honourary titles of March Eighth Woman Pace-Setter of Wuhan City, and “Model of the Time: Practitioner of Wuhan Spirits” during Q3 2016.

Four years ago, Yu Hongmei was known as a scrap collector. She ended her business collecting used barrels from households throughout the countryside, and opened a workshop to renovate old furniture. She went everywhere to collect old barrels, selling them to waste recycling stations. Through this work, she could earn several hundred thousand yuan a year. When she found that the scrapped barrels could be processed into artistic wares, exported to other countries, and each handiwork sold for a dozen dollars, she immediately changed her business model. “I’m going to become an expert barrel collector.”

“How come other people could earn a lot, but I only earned a little?”

In 2013, Yu Hongmei was elected the head of Cunwan village. At the time, Xinzhou District launched a village leadership training programme at the junior college level through the “One College Student Per Village” programme. Yu Hongmei was selected to study at the Xinzhou Branch of Wuhan RTVU’s junior college, and specialised in Rural Economy.

Yu Hongmei cherished this opportunity, and attended school every weekend. No matter how busy and tired she was, she would read books and review her lessons. “Due to my family’s poor financial situation, I had failed to complete a middle school education. Thus, I was grateful to receive special approval from the Department of Organisation to attend college. Normally, students must finish high school, technical secondary school, or a vocational school education to be able to keep up with college courses. But my teachers were very considerate, and cared for us very much. They would teach us according to our individual learning needs, and often spent extra time instructing us to help us learn.”

Once, the RTVU invited Mr. Gao Zejin, an associate professor of Wuhan RTVU, to teach Introduction to Economics. When Gao Zejin talked about the export trade, Yu Hongmei immediately associated it with her own experiences. She immediately raised her hand and asked, “When I supply goods to other people, how come they can export the goods and sell them at a much higher price than me? Why can’t I export the goods myself, instead of watching others make large sums of money, while I only make a little?”

By taking advantage of outside forces to upgrade her business, she enlarged her small workshop into a factory.

Yu Hongmei’s question triggered hot discussion among the course’s 90 students. All of them offered advice. After the class, Yu Hongmei was still lost in thought, so she invited Gao Zejin and Dai Zhiqi to visit her house, so that they could give her yet more suggestions. The three of them went to her home, against a heavy rain. They saw several of her rooms filled with barrels, and they listened to her about her production and sales situations.

A week later, Gao Zejin introduced Yu Hongmei to a friend engaged in the export business, and he later became her business partner. The two of them formed an antique furniture company, which owns the right to export. Then, Gao Zejin helped Yu Hongmei secure angel funding totaling 600,000 yuan. Soon after, Yu Hongmei established an independent antique furniture production and processing company with an expanded product line of more than 300 types across ten categories. Yu Hongmei’s small workshop transformed into a large factory that employs almost one hundred workers year-round. The products were sold to Beijing, Shandong province, and even exported to several foreign countries, including the United States and Australia.

Yu Hongmei has become an “Expert Barrel Collector,” and is liked and admired. Her business, valued in the tens of millions of yuan, started right here.

From Chutian Metropolis Daily