Every potential college student–and his/her parents–knows how arduous a task it is to track down and apply for scholarships. Well, an app called Scholly makes it a lot easier. The app matches students with college scholarships. With more than $100 million in scholarships going unclaimed annually, this app allows access to much-needed college funds.
“The idea was born out of my own frustrations as a high school student growing up in an underserved Alabama community,” explains Christopher Gray, one of the app’s co-founders. “There was violence, gangs, and a culture filled with anti intellectualism. Students who were bright and motivated were often overshadowed and smothered. That, coupled with a lack of economic opportunity, made it even harder to succeed no matter how hard I worked. Despite that, I was determined to go to college and began to seek out scholarships.”
What Gray soon discovered was a tedious process. “I spent long and laborious hours searching and applying for scholarships on sites like FastWeb and Scholarships .com. They were really the only thing out there at the time. It would take you about 20 minutes to put in all of your personal information and then the sites would bring up hundreds of ‘matches’ that you had to sort through in order to see if you qualified for them,” he recalls. The whole process took months.
And with no computer at home, which could be the case for many students seeking scholarships, Gray was extremely challenged during the process. “To add to the frustration, I was only able to use computers at local libraries and at school for very short periods of time. That forced me to have to apply for some scholarships via my cell phone and in these cases, I would literally have to write my essays down and then type them into fields on my small phone screen,” he explains. But he did wind up landing a good deal of scholarship money for his effort. “The process was agonizing and tedious, but I knew I had to do it. Ultimately, my hard work paid off and I won more than $1.3 million in scholarships to funds,” he says.
Because of his own experience, Gray wanted to find a way to make the process easier for others. “I knew there had to be an easier way to match students with scholarships they qualify for. While an undergraduate at Drexel, I wanted to help future students avoid the painstaking application process I had endured and decided to streamline the process for others by developing Scholly. I came up with our ‘eight parameter system’ for Scholly. I looked through a lot of scholarships to find out what criteria made a student eligible for a scholarship. That’s the core of the Scholly search,” he says.
The app, which took about five months to get up and running, has worked; in less than two years, it has helped students receive more than $20 million in scholarship funds. The app has more than 600,000 users.
Scholly was founded by Gray, who is the founder/CEO); Nick Pirollo is the CTO; and Bryson Alef is the VP of Engineering. “While I have often been seen as the face and inspiration behind the creation of Scholly, the three of us created it together. Nick specializes in iOS, Android and Web Development and Bryson specializes in computer science, mobile application development and technology,” Gray points out.
Getting the app out while still in school was full of challenges. “Starting a company in college has both its advantages and disadvantages…The downside of starting a company while in college, of course, is that you are a student and you have to take these annoying little things called classes. As one could imagine, it was incredibly difficult trying to take five classes each term while running a growing company. The choice between being a good student and a great entrepreneur was a daily struggle. It’s really tough to strike the balance,” says Gray.
But there were also many pluses to starting the app while still in school. “The upside is that you are in college and with entrepreneurship at the top of everyone’s minds, you have access to mentors and a lot of free capital through competitions,” Gray shares. “Between Drexel and other competitions, I won around $130,000 for Scholly. Similar to scholarships, I became pretty good at raising ‘free money’ for Scholly. Also, as a student, you have access to a variety of mentors and programs that can assist you in starting and growing your company.”
There has been a learning curve in operating a startup. “Up until just recently, we did not have a specific marketing strategy,” admits Gray. “Scholly has been lucky enough to receive a lot of recognition through awards and press coverage. However, we really began to get recognition after appearing on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ in February 2015 and scoring a deal with Daymond John and Lori Greiner.” In that episode of “Shark Tank,” Gray convinced Greiner and John to give Scholly an investment totaling $40,000 in return for a 15 percent stake in the company.
“Being on ‘Shark Tank’ was instrumental in gaining publicity and brand recognition for Scholly,” explains Gray. “And because our mission serves such an important population and helps solve the ongoing problem of student debt, the media have been eager to speak with me and my team about Scholly and feature us in stories.”
Now, Scholly has plans on how to expand their business. “Scholly’s mission is to provide access to opportunity. While we are starting with scholarships, we plan to begin to match students with and promote other educational opportunities as well. Our slogan is, ‘opportunity for all’ and we plan to provide that access through our platform,” says Gray. And a new app is on its way this month. Says Gray enthusiastically, “Stay tuned!”