Evon Söderlund took the idea of an Asian karaoke box and gave it a whole new twist. Now she runs Huone, the first events hotel in the world.
Evon was raised in Malaysia in a village where usually only boys would receive higher education. Girls normally studied until high school and were then supposed to learn how to cook and clean and raise children. Evon, however, wanted something more. She studied dance in Kuala Lumpur and became a professional dancer and dance teacher. When she was 19 she came to Europe to see the dance scene.
While studying in Malaysia Evon had become friends with a few Finnish exchange students. One of them was Jussi Söderlund. When she came to Europe she contacted Jussi who asked her to visit Finland. They started dating, and after three months he proposed. Now they have been married for 10 years. – I was afraid that if I said no I would regret it for the rest of my life.
Haaga-Helia has the best reputation in this study field, that’s why I chose it.
In Finland Evon worked at the Malaysian embassy as the secretary for the ambassador for two years before she went to study hospitality management at Haaga-Helia.
– I weighed my future options. As a foreigner who doesn’t really speak the language I felt that it would be easier to employ myself instead of working for others. Haaga-Helia has the best reputation in this study field, that’s why I chose it. They have very strong hospitality knowledge.
It was a big step, leaving work and becoming a full-time student, but the dream of her own business was forming in her mind. – We always found Asian karaoke boxes fun and wondered why there weren’t any in Finland, rooms that you could rent with your friends and have a party.
Evon’s studies helped her develop her business idea into Huone and prepared her as an entrepreneur.
– Haaga-Helia hospitality studies were just what I needed to know how to run a hospitality business in Finland. It also gave me reassurance that I could do it.
She made a lot of new friends and good contacts in Haaga-Helia. In fact, one of her lecturers is her mentor and at the moment he sits on the board of Huone.
Evon has been an entrepreneur since 2012. Huone launched in November 2012, and it did well for a start-up. In the first month and a half they had 70 events. In Evon’s experience, being an entrepreneur is stressful and time-consuming but she is not a person who wants to wonder ”what if?”
– I don’t want to sit on a couch when I’m 50 and wonder if I could have made it. I want to make my dream come true. I want to do something meaningful with my life.
One of the rooms at Huone, Evon’s events hotel.
Evon has employed a lot of her fellow Haaga-Helia students. In fact, everyone at Huone but her husband is a Haaga-Helia graduate or student. Evon also has a very good relationship with Haaga-Helia.
– Teachers still call sometimes and ask how things are going and if I need help. That is a real privilege.
In the future Evon plans to expand Huone which now has eight rooms. For the summer they are building a terrace and later they are taking over the empty space upstairs to create bigger rooms.
– Events for 30 to 80 people are in great demand, and we cannot accommodate all requests since only two of our rooms are big rooms.
Evon has had quite a career so far, but what about dance? Will she return to dance one day? – I still danced while I was in Haaga-Helia. It is so built in me that I can’t give it up. If I have the time I will go back to dance but now I really don’t have the time. I want to pursue my passion.
Third year of the Huone Events Hotel has been a success. The story of Evon and Huone has been told in Taivas ja Helvetti 2 -book, and they have received many awards. So far Huone has hosted nearly 1,500 events. Even though entrepreneurship has sometimes been difficult, Evon has stayed positive.
– I never dreamed of any of this, especially when I got the Most Valuable Entrepreneur of the Year award from PwC. I’m very honored to be selected – it still feels very unreal.
– All of this is a result of hard work. Last year has been a game changer. Now people know Huone and have their eyes on us. It gives us some good pressure to get going.
Evon’s next plan is to expand Huone in the summer 2015. Maybe some day she can spread her business abroad as well.
Becoming a mother changed Evon and helped her to see everything from a different perspective. Priorities changed: baby always comes before Huone. Recently Evon has also started to realize, that she should take more care about herself. So many things are dependent on her. Now she has learned to balance between taking care of the family, the business and herself. She also wants to make more sustainable choices to preserve good surroundings for the next generations.
Looking back, Evon thinks it is good she founded her business while she was studying. The studies at Haaga-Helia were a good package, where she got the support she needed to start a business and to success. After that her career steps were clear.