Getting a college scholarship in the US is an immense challenge, but he did it with overwhelming success. And he did not stop there. Christopher Gray went on to help thousands of other youths find scholarships, while championing more social causes.
While many of us have fond memories of secondary school – the silly things we did and the carefree times we had – a student from a low-income family in Birmingham, Alabama, had it different. His mother, a single parent and only 14 years older than him, lost her job during a recession, and he had no money for college.
Today Gray is the founder of a million-dollar app and was recently featured in Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He is, however, perhaps most famous for appearing on Shark Tank, a American reality TV series showing budding entrepreneurs pitching to would-be investors, and winning big. Now 24 years old and a finance and entrepreneurship graduate from Drexel University, he has come a long way.
As a teenager, for seven months, Gray spent 12 hours every week searching and applying for scholarships. (Some of us struggle to put in 12 hours of exercise a month.) As he did not have a computer at home, to check for scholarships online, he had to go the public library and wait for about an hour for an available computer. With a time limit for usage, he had to get back in line and wait again to surf a second time.
Million Dollar Scholar
Gray chose the former. And while he was desperately seeking scholarships, he did not shirk his other responsibilities. He continued working at a clothing store and helping out at home. He also started a nonprofit called Genesis that provided opportunities for students to volunteer, and held talent shows and other events for charity – all while remaining fit as a fiddle.
Eventually, he managed to raise more than enough money for his undergraduate expenses – US$1.3 million to be exact, earning him the title “The Million Dollar Scholar”.
Gray’s persistence and resourcefulness went beyond serving himself. He also volunteered to help other low-income students find scholarships. But one-on-one help could only do so much. The ambitious young man needed something more. And he looked to technology.
Partnering two computer science majors Bryson Alef and Nick Pirollo, Gray founded Scholly, an app that helps students find scholarships using an eight-parameter algorithm. Created in 2013 and relaunched in 2015, Scholly currently has more than 600,000 users and helped given out US$20 million in scholarships. Monthly downloads regularly exceed 10,000 while download revenues are about US$20,000 and rising.
These numbers are still rising rapidly, for Gray has tackled a major pain point. The cost of pursuing higher education has been a crushing reality for many Americans, who owe a staggering US$1.2 trillion in student-loan debt. This averages to US$35,000 of debt per loanee, which is about a year’s worth of wages for a fresh graduate. It is little surprise then that Scholly topped the charts for both iTunes and Google Play Store for several weeks.
In fact, Gray’s social entrepreneurship extends beyond Scholly. He also founded Dorm Room Fund, Tweens and Teens Entertainment and World Change Coalition, all of which benefit the underprivileged in various ways.
The world is definitely brighter with Christopher Gray. Might the world one day be brighter with you, too?