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Actor And Activist Jesse Williams: 'I'm Certain I'm Making A Difference'

Actor And Activist Jesse Williams: 'I'm Certain I'm Making A Difference'

Jesse Williams recently sat down with NPR and spoke about how he's making a difference. We were honored to have a substantial place in that.  It was a wide-ranging interview that focused on acting and activism. We're proud of him, and our relationship with him. Below is an excerpt where he mentions us, and how important our mission is to creating opportunity for all.

On his collaborations on mobile apps

"I'm proudest of collaboration; I'm not proudest of any independent action. You mentioned mobile apps, and to be clear, I'm a co-founder of Ebroji, a GIF-kind of cultural language keyboard, but Scholly — I have come on as a board member and a brand ambassador and partner in the company, but it was founded and created by Christopher Gray. And that is a mobile app that aggregates and connects students to millions and millions of dollars of scholarships every year.

There's over $100 million in scholarships every year that go unclaimed. People just aren't aware of them. And on the Scholly app, you plug in your information, your demographic, your height, you're left-handed, you love the clarinet, you used to wrestle, and we would pull together all the scholarships that are available to you. And we've connected students to over $70 million in real scholarships, in real money so far."



Christopher Gray on How to be a Social Entrepreneur.

Christopher Gray on How to be a Social Entrepreneur.

Recently the New York Times published this awesome article on Scholly's Founder, Christopher Gray. In it, he shares advice for students hoping to launch a sustainable social venture — we wanted to paraphrase a couple points from it in case you may have missed it. While Christopher may have made his social entrepreneurial contribution by inventing a scholarship-search platform that connects students with money for college, the ingredients can be consistent through any venture. 

Find Your Motivation

Being from Birmingham, Ala., you tend to want to get out of Birmingham, Ala. I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. I wanted to escape and get to a place where I could do that. My brother and sister were 4 and 2 at the time I was going to college. I wanted to break the cycle and create a better life for them. They now have someone they can see who’s different than what’s around them. All the success is just surreal, and it’s emotional. When I started Scholly, my goal wasn’t to make a billion dollars. It was to help a lot of people.

The ‘Aha’ Moment

Realizing there’s a big market, that’s when I knew this could be a business. At Drexel I was around a lot of kids who had different backgrounds. I saw, it’s not just me. Both parents could make 100K, but they have three kids in college. They need scholarships, too.

Make a Deal

To get on “Shark Tank,” my advice would be to find a producer and have a conversation. A producer spoke to one of my friends at Drexel and I ran up to ask for an introduction. I pitched my story and ended up calling him, like, six times. Be persistent. The producer I talked to had to find scholarships of his own, so he understood. Find people who identify with what you’re doing.

Leverage Your Peers

You have a lot of people around you who want to get experience and will work for free. And a lot of your friends have connections. One of my investors is Springleaf and that came from a guy I partied with. His dad is the C.E.O.

Leverage Your University

Your university wants your success as much as you do. I was a student when I appeared on “Shark Tank.” That’s a big thing for the school. Drexel helped promote us. Your university has tons of networking events and marketing opportunities. Students don’t have money, so we have to figure out the most inexpensive way to get the word out there.

Tap Student-Specific Cash

There are so many funding opportunities specifically for students. I think students miss that sometimes. I won $75,000 from Cupid’s Cup, an entrepreneurship competition for students and recent graduates. At Drexel, I won $32,000 in an incubator competition.


When you’re a student, you study hard for a test and you make an A. You have a degree of control over your success. When you’re an entrepreneur, you can work eight months on a deal and it may not go through. Markets change. Investors change their minds. When that happens, be resilient. Students may not be used to dealing with that yet. If a little boy from Birmingham, Ala., can go to college, pay for it and build a successful company before the age of 25, so can you.

Blast from the past: A compliment, from Mr. Wonderful?!

Blast from the past: A compliment, from Mr. Wonderful?!

Remember the big fight we started on Shark Tank that caused Mark, Robert, and Kevin to walk out?  Chris appeared on CNBC last year and had Kevin O'Leary compliment his pitch, calling it Masterful... watch it below. While we're super-proud to receive a compliment from Mr. Wonderful himself, what we're really proud of is the fact that since then, we've helped students raise over $35 Million in scholarship awards. If you haven't checked out Scholly, you can create an account right here!

"Solve your own Problems."      Christopher Gray on Startups.

"Solve your own Problems." Christopher Gray on Startups.

When I was a junior in high school I wondered how I was going to pay for college. My mom was unemployed at the time and the colleges I was looking at weren’t exactly being generous with financial aid. It quickly became apparent that scholarships were my only option.

My local library became my second home as I spent most of my junior year and summer there looking for scholarship opportunities. After going through database after database and sorting through hundreds of scholarships, I created a list of scholarships I would apply for. It was one the most tedious and frustrating experiences of my life. Despite that, my hard work paid off and I was awarded over a million dollars in scholarships.  

After my success with finding scholarships, many students began to reach out to me for tips and advice in paying for college. Eventually, however, I realized that I just didn't have the time to give advice to everyone who asked for it. I needed a way to scale my efforts. So, I decided to create Scholly, a scholarship-matching platform that gives students an easy way to find scholarships. I took the knowledge gained from my own experiences and turned them into a product. I understood my customer because I was the customer.

I’m not saying that founders have to solve their own problems to build a great startup.  What I am saying is that it makes it a lot easier to add value to your customers when you understand their pain.  You will have more inborn insight when developing your product, which will potentially cut a lot of time out of the early product-market-fit stage. This gives founders more time to focus on how to scale their product and less time wondering if people will find their solution valuable at all.

Furthermore by solving a problem you’ve faced, you will give your startup a story.  Your value proposition relates to your own experiences and your pitch will feel natural. This helps your audience – be it investors, customers or press – better understand you and the problem your product is trying to solve.   

Above all, when working on solving a problem you have, you are working on a startup that you are passionate about. Part of the drive to put time and energy into creating value for your customers will come from that fact that they are a reflection of yourself.  There is just something magical about having your customer’s happiness being tied to your own. To know that what you are building will help another “you” is a great thing.

When I used Scholly for the first time, I could do nothing but smile. At that moment, I was both Christopher Gray, Founder and Christopher Gray, customer. I was a student who worked hard to pay for college. Now I’m a Founder who has created an easy way for others to do the same.


Christopher Gray is Scholly's Founder and CEO, and was named Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the year for 2015 for Philadelphia and is one of Forbes' 30 under 30 for 2016. Scholly has been featured in just about every major media outlet, including Good Morning America, Forbes, BET, USA Today, Fortune Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, CNN, Fox News and many more. Chris speaks nationally as a Scholarship expert, and is a tireless advocate for student success through college affordability.