There’s a proverb that necessity is the mother of invention. 

As a high-achieving student at a magnet high school, Christopher Gray found himself in a difficult position. His mother had lost her job at the peak of a recession, causing them to experience a period of homelessness. He was a good student, but loans were out of the question. So, how was he going to pay for college? Gray sat down with Blavity for our Regarding video series and told us how his journey led to the creation of Scholly, a mobile app that pairs students with scholarships and takes out the extra guesswork for young scholars. 

Gray applied to over 400 scholarships and was ultimately awarded over $1.3 million to pay for college. But the first-generation college student had to navigate applications alone, a nuance that made things extra difficult.  

“It was a long process. It took me about seven months to find all this money, and I realized that there was this huge need for all these different scholarships to help people reduce their debt. But also, students look for the money and they can’t find it,” Gray told us. 

“In my process of helping people throughout college, I decided that I wanted to create something to productize this solution. And that’s why I started Scholly," he added. 

Thinking of how overwhelming and daunting his own experience was, he easily could’ve taken the money and ran, but Gray wanted to help others. He knew that he tapped into a solution that would immeasurably improve the lives of the next generation — and then he grew that idea. 

“I really wanted to create a social enterprise. Since then, we’ve expanded to help people in other parts of that process. We’ve launched the editor project that instantly proofreads and edits any of their essays or papers or dissertations ... and teaches them what’s wrong with it. We’ve paid off a bunch of people’s student loans through a partnership with Grown-ish,” Gray said.  

Blavity previously reported on the Grown-ish x Scholly effort to keep loan collectors off your back. But this wasn’t Gray’s first foray into television — Scholly was actually launched on a 2015 episode of Shark Tank. In an interesting twist, Shark Tank executives read Gray’s story in a USA Today article and reached out to him to be on the show. 

“It just isn’t about the product, it’s also about the entrepreneur,” he said. 

Gray was flown out to Los Angeles to film, but the day he was supposed to shoot he was bumped because of time. He was given two options: stay an extra day where he again might be seen on a full roster or fly back out in September, where there was a possibility he wouldn’t be seen then either. 

Gray took a chance by staying an extra day and was ultimately offered a deal by Daymond John and Lori Greiner. The irony in that was that neither “shark” was present on the day Gray was originally supposed to film. His launch started the biggest fight on Shark Tank history. 

He reassures young entrepreneurs that they’re not “going to know everything.” 

What started as an idea from a young student at Drexel University currently has 3.5 million users and has helped students raise $100 million to advance their education, many of whom, like a young Gray, did not have parents to contribute to their education or the ability to take out loans. 

There’s another proverb that goes, “what’s for you is for you.”

Check out the video below: