USC Business Student Becomes Award-Winning Entrepreneur

By Holden Slattery

Chinese national Tony Gao is a junior at USC, and he’s been studying in the United States ever since his days in junior high. He’s experienced the myriad challenges of studying in a foreign country and he’s overcome them. In one particular problem he faced, Gao saw an opportunity, and, with the help of two business partners, he seized it.

When Chinese students make their tuition payments, it can take more than a week for a payment to navigate from a Chinese bank to an American Bank, and then to a school or university.

With that in mind, Gao has made it his business to try and give Chinese students a faster, easier and more cost-effective way to pay their tuition. In 2013, he co-founded Easy Transfer Limited, a company that enables Chinese students and their families to make tuition payments directly from Chinese bank accounts to U.S. universities. The other co-founders are University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Michael Shang, whom Gao met while attending high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Randy Bretz, a long-time business leader who mentored the two young men.

Now, students from 517 different high schools and colleges across the U.S., including USC, have already used the payment service, Gao wrote in an e-mail to OIS.

“I know how hard it is for international students to pay their tuition, and so I really want to do that, to help them,” Gao said in an interview at the student dining area outside of USC’s Tutor Campus Center.

Using Easy Transfer, students can make tuition payments in just a few minutes, and schools or universities can receive the funds within 48 hours, Gao said.

In 2015, at 21 years of age, Gao was rewarded for his vision and hard work when he became the youngest person to make Bloomberg Business Week’s list of 25 pioneer entrepreneurs from China under the age of 25.

Gao’s a strong proponent of entrepreneurship, encouraging all of his friends who have business ideas to jump right in and pursue them while they’re still young—just as Gao pursued his idea. Some ideas cannot wait, Gao said, citing a popular belief in the Silicon Valley tech industry.

But when it comes to any person whose primary goal is to make money, Gao doesn’t prescribe entrepreneurship.

“If your goal is to make people’s lives better, you really get the soul of being an entrepreneur,” he said.

Before he considered entrepreneurship, Gao thought about working in a large financial services corporation. At the age of 19, he put on a suit and started shadowing a group leader at Ernst and Young, an international business management consulting firm, in its Bejing office. But he didn’t find much joy in the uber-competitive environment there, and he left Ernst and Young after just a month. Entrepreneurship, he has found, suits him best.

Holden Slattery, Communications Editor for OIS, is a Master of Public Administration candidate. He is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.