In 1978, Cliff Ensley ’69, ’70, G’71 had an idea to start his own business and just $2,500 to do it. He was used to taking on challenges—there was no stopping him. Growing up, he struggled with a learning disability—at…
Julia Haber ’18 Empowers Students Virtually with Home From College
If the outbreak of the coronavirus posed one question for students, it was this: what does college look like when it’s not in person?
This question ran through the mind of Syracuse University alumna Julia Haber ’18 just a few days after realizing her new company wouldn’t come to fruition.
From November 2019 to March 2020, Haber was working on building a new company, 2.0, which focused on creating clubhouse environments on college campuses. The clubhouses would act as large communal workspaces for all, featuring common lounge spaces for students to network with one another in, as well as meeting rooms for brands and companies to come and meet with students.
The new venture was inspired by Haber’s first business, WAYV, which provides immersive experiences for college students by creating pop-up physical spaces for students to interact. One of the first events WAYV held was a shopping pop-up space, designed and run all by Syracuse students, where students could come buy from such brands as Lululemon but on their own college campus.
Haber grew the business plan for WAYV over her four years as an undergraduate, utilizing many campus resources, such as the Blackstone Launchpad and the Panasci Business Plan Competition. By her senior year, Haber had gotten enough startup cash to begin WAYV full-time once she graduated.
While touring the country with a partnership between WAYV and Shopify, Haber saw how so many colleges “needed to build a community on campus in a more permanent physical way,” she says. Haber envisioned her new business, 2.0, as an opportunity “to build a community in a physical way” on college campuses, she says. She saw a real need for spaces other than classrooms, the Quad or parties for students to interact with one another.
The physical clubhouse spaces would allow companies to “come in and have a more permanent presence with students,” and Haber hoped that this would help build job opportunities, internships and brand exposure for students.
Haber had planned for the first clubhouse to be at The Marshall, an apartment complex off Syracuse University’s main campus, where her passion for entrepreneurship began. The lease was set and Haber was about launch her business just when the coronavirus pandemic started to spread across the U.S.
Everything changed in a matter of two days, and all of Haber’s work over the past five months crumbled, as the University shifted to online instruction, making 2.0 no longer a reality.
On March 10, Haber called the branding company she was working with to have them change completely from physical spaces to a digital brand in two weeks. In less than 48 hours, Haber completely pivoted the whole business to keep her vision alive in some way.
While disappointed that 2.0 would not come to fruition, Haber says she quickly realized that the “way to actually help people was going to be online.” Physical interaction with other students and brands could no longer happen, but for Haber that didn’t mean an end to her vision. If anything, it was only the start of an innovative and exciting new venture.
The first phone call Haber made was to Margot Lee, a senior at Syracuse University at the time. Lee met Haber during her first year at the University while Haber ran a club called VISION, which focused on women in entrepreneurship. Lee is best known for her popular YouTube channel, where she documents her lifestyle and posts about college, health and fashion.
After the University made the decision to send students home for the remainder of the spring semester, Lee was devastated, as it was her final semester of college. She posted a video to her YouTube channel, as a note to the Class of 2020 and an acknowledgement of the pain that students were feeling. Haber saw the video, which went viral, and was inspired to create something to fill the void that so many college students were now experiencing, in terms of both social and professional life.
Lee recalls how Haber called her, asking if it was a crazy idea to buy the domain name “Home From College.” Lee, thinking Haber was joking and just brainstorming ideas, said why not buy it. An hour later, Haber officially owned the rights to Home From College, and her new company was born.
Home From College was literally built from the name up. Millions of college students were now forced to go home, and Haber felt that she could aid students in navigating these uncertain times.
Haber describes Home From College as “a platform to be the brand of the college market. HFC is a one-stop shop for college students to supplement them in the career world and real world, prior, during and post college.” Home From College demonstrates the “best of LinkedIn and the best of Master Class combined to create a content-based community,” Haber says.
To Haber and her team, this “new business was going to be even more real, right now, for students.” When previously traveling to different college campuses, Haber formed a strong connection with students from all over the country. Home From College quickly became a network of over 90 college students building out content. The Home From College website features video interviews with prominent leaders across tech, business, sports and fashion industries, as well as topic specific videos on subjects like marketing and corporate responsibility.
Haber relies on the support and advice of current college students, like Emily Pearson ’21, who helps run graphic design for Home From College. Pearson was in Florence, Italy, studying abroad when the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing her to return to her home in California. Pearson had met Haber her freshman year and interned for WAYV last summer. Her story is an example of how Home From College was there for students during difficult times and gave them hope and work experience.
Haber’s main mission with Home From College, which has 17,900 followers on Instagram, is to “build a really big community and provide value and access to resources in a super-curated, college lens through a brand that people feel like it speaks to them because it was built by college students for college students.”
Never in her dreams did she think that Home From College would take off the way it did, but the best advice Haber can give is to “encourage students to advocate for themselves if they don’t fit in the box that is college.”
“When you empower students, you create a community of engagement, support and skill that you can never get out of an adult,” Haber says.