Learn how Christopher Gray turned his struggle to fund his education into a national service to help people across the country achieve their dreams.
Whether it was 50 years ago or 5, Black Americans continue to contribute to this country's history of amazing achievements. Like David Adefeso's struggle to pay for college being the impetus for the creation of Sootchy, so did Christopher Gray's challenge to find scholarships drive him to develop Scholly. For countless high school students across the country, the thought of heading off to college is one that inspires excitement and apprehension in equal measure. Though many dream about the possibilities that a college education creates, that optimism is often tempered by the eye-popping price tag that almost any degree carries today – a cost that continues to climb with each passing year. To help families cover this expense and minimize the debt that their children might face, a young entrepreneur named Christopher Gray developed Scholly, an app that connects students to scholarship opportunities that fit their unique circumstances. Here, we’ll look at how he turned a struggle to fund his education into a service with hundreds of thousands of users nationwide.
Even as a young child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Christopher Gray’s interest in education was evident. On his bookshelf sat works that would intimidate many adults, let alone children: Paradise Lost shared space with the biographies of prominent financiers and inspirational books by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell. In their pages, Gray learned the value of recognizing – and capitalizing on – one’s own potential, a philosophy that led him to excel as a high school student.
As graduation drew closer, Gray turned to scholarships to cover the cost of his continuing education, but he quickly found that the work of hunting down and applying for college funds required significant time and energy, not to mention easy access to a computer. For seven months, Gray made the trip to his local library to jockey for time on one of a limited number of desktops there. Fortunately, his efforts bore fruit, starting with a $20,000 grant from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans – the first of many he would receive.
In total, Christopher Gray’s persistence earned him an incredible $1.3 million in scholarships, which he used to pave the way to a degree in business administration from Drexel University in Philadelphia. It was during his time there that Gray realized just how backward the scholarship system was in the U.S., and how many students craved help in finding scholarships. This insight led to the idea for an application that streamlines the process for everyone: Scholly.
As Christopher Gray and his co-founders, Nick Pirollo and Bryson Alef, began the work of developing Scholly into a powerful tool for prospective college students, they were offered the opportunity to pitch their nascent app on the popular show Shark Tank. By the end of Gray’s presentation, he’d won the sharks’ interest and wound up walking out of the room with not one but two investors, Lori Greiner and Daymond John, who contributed a total of $40,000 to Scholly’s development in exchange for a 15% stake in the company.
And the benefits of Gray’s Shark Tank appearance went beyond the TV studio. In the days after he made his pitch, viewers from across the country download the app in such huge numbers that Scholly rocketed to the top of the rankings on both the Google Play Store and iOS App Store, where it stayed for more than three weeks. Scholly also garnered accolades from an array of companies and publications, including Inc. Magazine and Under Armour.
Gray himself has earned more than a little attention as well. His story has been featured in some of the most prominent newspapers, magazines, and news programs in the U.S.; in 2016, Gray was placed at the top of the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Social Entrepreneurship, and he received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award that same year. Even Oprah weighed in when she named Gray to her Super Soul 100 list, which honors socially conscious leaders from a variety of industries.
The goal of Scholly is simple: to pair up students with scholarships that fit their specific circumstances. To date, Scholly users have been awarded more than $100 million in scholarships, and the app has almost two million users.
Those who download the app will be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire, which provides Scholly with the information it needs to sort through a database of scholarship opportunities and provide a list of options. Only current scholarships are considered (staff members constantly update the app’s pool of scholarships), and Scholly passes over options that require a Social Security Number – often an indication that a scholarship is untrustworthy – or that require a big upfront payment.
The app is available on both web and mobile platforms, but note that it’s not free; the use of Scholly’s services will cost you $45 per year, which comes out to $3.75 a month.
For many students, scholarships won with the help of resources like Scholly can cover tens of thousands of dollars in higher education expenses, but given the ever-growing costs associated with college, more might be required. By enrolling in a 529 plan, you can generate tax-free investment returns for yourself or a loved one, and the process is surprisingly easy. Just download the free Sootchy app, and you can open a plan, manage your funds, and invite contributions from friends and family members. Learn more by visiting us online or check out the Sootchy app today.