Christopher Gray, a 24-year-old entrepreneur, has already accomplished much and given a lot. Raised by a Solo Mom in a disadvantaged Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood, Gray learned at a young age that with grit and determination, he could accomplish great things not only for himself but also for others—a lesson he applies as founder and CEO of Scholly, which uses an app and website to make it easier for students to find scholarships.
The development of Scholly has earned Gray extensive media attention (including a front-page profile in USA Today) and the financial support of investors Lori Greiner and Daymond John through Gray’s appearance on the TV show Shark Tank. And Gray is just getting warmed up.
Gray was born to a teenage Solo Mom who taught him the value of perseverance at an early age, according to an interview published on the website of Drexel University (where he would later attend and graduate). As a boy, he grew up fascinated with video games and superhero comics. He identified with the character of Bruce Wayne because of Wayne’s intensity and the fact that he was a successful businessperson who tried to do good for society as Batman. At an early age, Gray started down a similar path.
By fourth grade, Gray was winning several academic competitions; he would go on to attend a magnet high school. There, he focused on academics and service, founding a nonprofit volunteer organization, Genesis. He knew that college was the next step in his journey, but he faced obstacles: because of his mother’s credit record, getting financial aid was going to be a problem, and he didn’t have the resources at home to research and apply for merit-based scholarships. Undaunted, he visited his local library to get online access and start searching for the scholarships he would need to attend college.
The process was tedious and laborious. Because computer access was restricted to 30-minute sessions, he had to complete his research in short chunks of time, log off, and then wait until a computer became available again. It took him seven months of googling his way through the maze of scholarships available and to separate legitimate, merit-based awards from scams. And then, of course, he needed to apply for them, one 30-minute session at a time. Through sheer willpower, he applied for about 80 scholarships.
Remarkably, he won $1.3 million in scholarship money with the help of his library and Google, paving the way for him to attend Drexel. While in college, he decided he wanted to help other students going through the process of finding scholarships online. So he teamed up with a few colleagues to launch Scholly, which matches students with their most promising scholarships based on their background. Essentially, Scholly simplifies research and eliminates guesswork so that other students have an easier time than Gray had looking for financial help.
His founding of Scholly eventually earned Gray an appearance on Shark Tank in 2015 while he was a Drexel undergraduate. He impressed viewers and the Shark Tank investors with his poise and passion.
“Scholly isn’t just a business,” he said on Shark Tank. “It’s my passion. I want to help students like myself find money to go to the college of their dreams.”
He explained that as the son of a Solo Mom, he had to work especially hard to find the money needed to attend college, which fueled his determination to help others. The fact that he had raised $1.3 million for himself gave him tremendous credibility. Gray was so compelling that a fight broke out among Shark Tank investors as they jockeyed to help him. He got the money he wanted on his own terms.
Since then, he has focused on creating more awareness for Scholly and expanding its team. (Recently, actor and former teacher Jesse Williams was named a Scholly brand ambassador.) He is also capitalizing on his own high profile to inspire other businesspeople to make money while doing good. He describes Scholly as “extremely personal”—his own mission to help—and he credits his Solo Mom for helping him get where he is today.
“My mother gave me my persistence,” he told Drexel. “My perseverance. Those core personality traits that drive me. The intensity. The ability to figure things out.”
Watch Christopher Gray’s Shark Tank appearance here:
Thumbnail credit: YouTube
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