Why you should care
Because true tech innovation can come from any background.
Christopher Gray admits he’s different from the typical tech entrepreneur. The founder of Scholly — a mobile and web app that matches students with scholarships — says he kind of stuck out when pitching venture capitalists on his idea.
“I don’t fit the background of a lot of people who are in tech: I’m Black, I’m gay and I don’t come from a lot of money. [When pitching Scholly], I would be in a lot of rooms where they see you’re Black, and they put you in this category before they even talk to you.”
As a result, Gray says he struggled to sell investors on his vision. Their view? The inability to pay for college was a problem that affected only low-income people.
“It was like the middle class just didn’t exist to them,” he recalls. To get them on board, he decided he needed to show them the money, which meant launching his product on his own. He partnered with a co-founder who could help make the app, and learned how to code.
“I made up for that lack of access [to funds] by getting users and making revenue. I had to find a way to scrape it on my own and hustle.”
Striking out on his own has been a theme in Gray’s life. As a teenager, he dreamed of going to college, even though no one in his family had ever attended college.
“I had no road map to be able to go, because my family didn’t go. I had no road map to pay for college because we were broke,” he says. To fulfill his dream, he applied for every scholarship he could find, and eventually secured $1.3 million in college funding. The experience later served as inspiration for Scholly.
“There’s all this money looking for students, and there’s students looking for money, and they can’t find each other, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars that go unclaimed every year because these students don’t know they exist. I wanted to solve a problem that I was passionate about.”