Startup Spotlight: ScholarJet

May 14, 2017

Startup Spotlight: ScholarJet

May 14, 2017

This week we spoke to Joe and Tuan from Startup Alley participant, ScholarJet. ScholarJet is a social enterprise startup, whose web platform aims at changing the way students receive scholarships: from essay-based to action-based. Read about their awesome work in our interview below!

GH: What is ScholarJet?

Tuan: ScholarJet is the future of scholarships. We are changing the way students finance their education and the way that donors give through “action-based scholarships”. Action-based scholarships enable students to show their true potential and donors to make a real difference towards what they believe in, through challenges related to STEM, creativity, community service, and health.
Joe: With the traditional, essay-based scholarship process, only a single student is impacted at a time, while with our “action-based scholarships”, every student that participates benefits from the experience.
 

GH: What is your name and role?

Tuan: My name is Tuan Ho and I’m a co-founder and CEO of ScholarJet.
Joe: My name is Joe and I’m a co-founder and COO of ScholarJet.

GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did ScholarJet get started?

Tuan: I came to the U.S from Vietnam when I was 10 years old. My mom worked really hard to get me through high school. During my senior year, I was accepted into Northeastern University. I also found out that it cost $60,000 a year to go. While juggling AP classes, SAT exams and extracurricular activities, I needed to find a way to raise money for college. With English being second language, I was still able to write over 120 essays to apply for over 40 scholarships. This painful process fortunately resulted in awarding me $500,000 worth of scholarships. These scholarships included the Yawkey Foundation Scholarship, GREBB Scholarship, and the NAAAP Scholarship.
2 years into Northeastern, while I was working at Axcelis Technology as my co-op, I realized that I wanted to do something more than just working at a 9-5 job. So, during my spare time, I started to read over 200 books for the 6 months that I was at Axcelis. This gave me enough knowledge to connect the dots between my struggles and how to provide a solution that could potentially change the world. Eureka!

GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?

Tuan: We believe that actions speak louder than words. Therefore we also believe that good business is personal. This led us to constantly striving to better ourselves everyday by learning from the people we interact with as well as the resources provided to us. We appreciate constructive criticism because we understand that there is always room for improvement.
We focus on building relationships and will never sacrifice relationships in exchange for business transactions. We come from humble backgrounds and understand that in order to change the world, we need to learn how to connect with those who are willing to help. We want to provide value to the people we interact with by being completely authentic in every interaction. There is no act, what you see is what you get.

GH: Startup life is full of failures and “make it work” moments- can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?

Tuan: Under the multitude of stress from taking engineering classes and building ScholarJet, one of my biggest failures was neglecting my personal life. I failed to maintain relationships with the people who were closest to me as well as my family. I was at the lowest point of my life and the only thing that kept me on my feet was ScholarJet. This was a defining moment of my life. I bounced back from it by seeking support from people around me who I thought could not care less, but they turned out to be the people who cared the most. With newfound support, I was able to realize what the most crucial thing in life that brings fulfillment is. It is good relationships. (This is also supported by a  75-year study from Harvard!)

GH: What did you learn from your first customers?

Joe: Working closely with Northeastern University, our mother school and first university supporter, has taught us so much about the industry of donor relations and philanthropy. Initially, we did not see alumni engagement as the means to fund our scholarships, but Northeastern’s Advancement team helped us realize how attractive our scholarships were as a way for alumni to create huge social impact.

GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?

Joe: The Boston ecosystem has been incredible for us. Being first-time entrepreneurs, there is a lot that we have not experienced yet, but we have met so many people who are willing to share their time and knowledge with us because they believe in our mission and vision. Through Northeastern’s IDEA Venture Accelerator  and  Smarter in the City (Roxbury-based High Tech Venture Accelerator), we have made so many valuable connections with mentors, taken advantage of pro-bono legal services (thanks BC Enterprise Clinic ), accounting services, and even heard some great life advice.
I can especially appreciate the benefit of TCN events, as they allowed me to interact with real leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Boston. Attending TCN’s “Venture Fast Track” event was especially helpful because I heard from multiple investors, including Chris Mirabile from LaunchPad. I even had the opportunity of having lunch with Jay Batson (Sigma Prime), Barry Coffman (LaunchPad), and Asad Butt (LearnLaunch).

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking in your opinion? 

 

Tuan: The ecosystem is lacking knowledge being delivered early. What this mean is that a lot of low income and underrepresented minorities have no idea how a company is started. For these people, especially immigrant parents, they only know that companies exist and the best business out there is a corner store down the street. Graduating from Boston Latin Academy, I realized that all the knowledge I was acquiring was about how to become a good employee. It was never about pursuing your dream. Your dreams were somehow turned into working for someone else’s dream. There is a huge discrepancy of knowledge and we need to somehow be able to bridge that gap.

GH: What is the best/worst piece of advice you were given? 

Joe: It’s hard to recall all the advice we’ve been given throughout our journey, but one funny quote that really stood out to me was by Perry Chen, founder of Kickstarter. At an event at Northeastern, he said something along the lines of “It used to be that if you failed… you died.” What he was talking about was how in prehistoric days, or early civilizations, the consequences of failure were quite literally… death. What I took away from this was that in modern times, we are given the amazing luxury to fail and fail again. Startups pivot and reiterate. People are switching jobs half a dozen times by the time they’re 30. We all learn so much from every experience, whether it be a great success or failure, and I think everyone should take the time to appreciate that.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

Tuan: The best thing that happened to us last year was when I was awarded a small stipend to work on ScholarJet full-time for 6 months as my second co-op from the Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship at Northeastern. This truly allowed me to fully focus on pushing ScholarJet forward during the critical, early stages of the business.

GH: What does the future hold for ScholarJet?

Joe: By the end of 2017, we hope to have 6 universities using ScholarJet to create action-based scholarships. Our long term vision is to have students everywhere raising money for their education and participating in these enriching experiences as early as their freshman year of high school. We want to see donors everywhere creating massive impact by influencing and providing values to the future creators and leaders of the world!

Learn More about ScholarJet here

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