After immigrating to Boston from Vietnam with his family at the age of 10, Tuan Ho found himself in an uphill battle to find the money to pay for college.
Ho’s mother was making a little more than $20,000 a year, so Ho did what many high school students do: apply for scholarships. He ended up applying for 40 scholarships, which meant that he had to write dozens of essays, the standard course for scholarship applications. But the hard work proved fruitful, and Ho ended up with $326,000, enough money to cover all four years of his tuition at Northeastern University.
While Ho was able to convince 12 scholarship committees with his essay-writing prowess, he knows not every student is an expert writer — which can put them at a disadvantage when it comes to finding scholarships to pay for college.
“Essays are not a good way to showcase a student’s full potential.”
That’s what inspired Ho to team up with Joseph Alim to start ScholarJet, a website that provides “action-based scholarships” that give students opportunities to pay for college through skills and activities that don’t involve essays. That includes things like poetry writing, video production, web design and community service, just to name a few.
“Essays are not a good way to showcase a student’s full potential,” Ho said.
ScholarJet recently launched with three scholarships for Boston-area students, amounting to $3,500. Ho said the company, which went through this year’s MassChallenge accelerator program, has already secured a total of $20,000 in scholarships, including a $6,000 deal that he recently closed with Akamai that will focus on STEM challenges. He said the company is also in discussions with other companies in the area for future scholarships.
One of the first scholarships is a $1,000 challenge that asks students to write a poem about Vietnamese-American culture (the winning poem will appear on a mural on the Pho Hoa restaurant in Dorchester). Another $1,000 scholarship, sponsored by Roxbury accelerator Smarter in the City, asks students to create a short video pitching their business idea.
For ScholarJet to succeed, the company will need to continue to convince companies to sponsor action-based scholarships in the future. Ho said he plans to do that by pitching ScholarJet to companies as a way to build brand awareness among high school students and build a large talent pool, especially with underrepresented groups they can later tap into.
ScholarJet has been bootstrapped with $40,000 earned through pitch competitions, including a U.S. Pan Asian Chamber of Commerce contest. Ho said he hopes to raise a seed financing round from investors and land 120 scholarship deals next year.