For Scholly founder and CEO Christopher Gray, DC is the new place for startup world denizens to be.
Scholly, a fintech company that rose to fame after appearing on “Shark Tank” in 2015, built an app that connects students to scholarships. The company recently had its assets acquired by student lending corporation Sallie Mae, which Gray said will be huge for Scholly’s growth. He noted that Sallie Mae has access to millions of students across America, which he described as crucial for scaling up Scholly.
“We’re going to be front-facing, helping students pay for college and get those scholarships and then partnering with Sallie Mae and their products to do any sort of gap financing,” Gray told Technical.ly. “Students may need to fill the gap so that they can continue school.”
Following the appearance on “Shark Tank,” Gray said that one of the company’s first big partnerships was with the Obama Administration via the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and spent a lot of time in the area for work travel. Officially, the company operates completely remotely, though its new HQ will be in Delaware following the acquisition. But Gray has made the district his home for the past two years and said that he’s excited to be a part of the large community of founders here.
And with exits like Scholly’s, he hopes to boost visibility into the ecosystem and see more external companies making investments here — because he thinks DC has a thriving ecosystem that doesn’t always get the spotlight.
“There’re lots of things a lot of people don’t know. ‘I didn’t know you existed, I didn’t know you existed,'” Gray said. “There needs to be some centralization, probably of some sort of regular events, a collaboration where there’s a community that isn’t so fragmented. I think they’re paving a way through that with technology.”
Right now, Gray views the local startup scene as very fragmented, with many resources that aren’t always openly visible. He’d also love to see more large funds making a presence in the area, although he noted that there are prominent, home-grown VC companies like 1863 Ventures and Zeal Capital. He said that there’s plenty of room to grow in the local startup ecosystem and money to be found, especially with government contracts and companies updating older tech systems. However, he hopes to see more incentives for fintech companies and startups to move to the area.
As for his own work, he’s still committed to running Scholly and leveling up following the acquisition (he was just able to make the app free in this deal — a longtime dream of his). But as he continues to work on Scholly, he has high hopes for the DC startup ecosystem.
“Once there are more exits, once there are more founders here and there’s more capital being deployed — especially for companies that are exclusively here —we’re going to see an emergence,” Gray said. “I do think that, hopefully, somebody takes ownership over that path, that challenge of centralizing the community.”
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