When Josh Solomon and his friends began searching for off-campus housing after their freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, they quickly realized that they had no idea how to navigate Eau Claire's student rental housing market.
"We just drove around looking for 'for rent' signs and had no idea what to do," said Josh, a native of Wausau.
Recognizing that thousands of other students are in the same situation every year as they try to find off-campus housing that meets their needs, the information systems major began building a website that would help simplify the housing search process for Blugolds.
When Josh's sister, Holly Solomon, enrolled at UW-Eau Claire to study marketing, the siblings began working together on the project.
The brother-sister duo recently launched their website, College House Eau Claire.
"We know from our experience and from talking to other students that the university needs something like this," Holly said.
The goal of College House Eau Claire is to help UW-Eau Claire students find off-campus housing, a roommate or subleasing options, said Josh, who now is a senior.
The site allows students to view housing options from a variety of property managers in Eau Claire who have properties to rent that are within five miles of campus, Holly said. Students use their UW-Eau Claire email address to create an account that allows them to access the site, she said.
The website is designed to bridge the gap between students and property managers, said Josh, noting that he and Holly are continuing to identify ways to improve the site to better meet the needs of students.
"Our goal is to continuously improve and build the website in order to make it even more efficient for students," Josh said.
The website is especially helpful for students who only need a place to live for a semester or who need to find a subleaser to take over their lease, Holly said. Students often only need housing for a semester because of plans to study abroad, participate in a national student exchange or complete an internship that will take them away from Eau Claire, she said, adding that many students also graduate in December and leave the area to begin their careers.
"Instead of searching around campus for fliers advertising subleases, or having to put them up in the first place, students can use College House Eau Claire to find everything in one place and simplify the process," Holly said.
Creating and operating a website as siblings has given the brother-sister team an opportunity to grow closer while gaining significant experience in the business world.
While they have similar values from being raised in the same household, there are occasional disagreements about their website venture, Josh said, describing those times as "quite interesting situations."
"But, we always find a way to compromise," Holly said. "Some say going into business with your family is dangerous, but I'd say there's no one I trust more than my family."
Holly said that her experiences inside and outside the classroom at UW-Eau Claire have helped her make significant contributions to their business. Her classes have given her a stable foundation of marketing-related information, and a marketing internship has helped her learn to better interact with other students.
Josh said his classes in the university's information systems program have helped him gain the knowledge he needed to create a successful website. In addition to teaching him the technical side of structuring and operating a website, his classes also have helped him "break outside the bubble" of his fear of public speaking, he said.
Most importantly, Josh said, starting College House Eau Claire has allowed him to apply what he's learned in the classroom in a real-world hands-on application, further cementing his knowledge in information systems.
Sandi Magerowski, a property manager at Clear Water Real Estate Enterprises LLC, worked with the siblings during the development of their website.
"Based on what we've learned by working with them on this project, they are willing to do what it takes to make this grow into something that will change the way the industry provides information to the renters, property managers and landlords," Magerowski said.
Bart Robinson from Foxboro Property Management also worked with Josh during the website's creation.
"He's very professional, extremely knowledgeable, has a practical approach that is very helpful and listens to our concerns and ideas," Robinson said of Josh. "His passion for what he does shows through every time we work with him, and it's nice to see that."
While the site was created to meet the needs of UW-Eau Claire students, other universities may also eventually benefit from the Solomon's company. The siblings are considering expanding their business to other campuses, though they say that meeting the needs of UW-Eau Claire will remain their top priority.
"We don't want to promote something if it's not in the best interest of UW-Eau Claire students," said Josh, who will graduate from UW-Eau Claire in May 2015.
So far, the feedback from Blugolds about the website has been very positive, Holly said.
"When students tell me that it's helping them, that makes me really excited," Holly said. "I really enjoy what I do."
For more information on College House Eau Claire, email firstname.lastname@example.org.