Working For Yourself Can Pay Off (Especially on Co-op)
The Close School’s first batch of Entrepreneurship Co-op students trade insights, speak prolonged success
April 22, 2014
by Zach Epstein
Last week, Close School students, faculty and staff listened intently as two successful entrepreneurs discussed their latest ventures, doling out advice and lessons learned to the latest Entrepreneurship Co-op students.
Those two speakers? Drexel students themselves — Christopher Gray and Weilei Yu — fresh off the completion of entrepreneurship co-ops of their own. They were the first. And they were happy to share their stories with the next crop.
Gray, the “Million Dollar Scholar,” whose story of securing $1.3 million in college scholarships garnered him national media attention, used his six months to continue developing Scholly, a mobile app that helps students embark on the often difficult task of finding scholarships.
A native of Italy, Yu spent his co-op working on his bridal fashion company, Sposae. Sposae offers high quality but low-cost cost gowns, dresses, men’s formalwear and accessories in two retail locations in Milan. His textiles are also available for purchase online.
“Being able to fully focus on my company without any other worries was great,” Yu said. “Close School's financing really helped to eliminate some expenses and headaches.”
Yu was just a teenager when he started Sposae in earnest before even stepping foot on campus. He used manufacturing connections in China to provide affordable wedding dresses to his clients in Italy. His first customer was so satisfied with her experience that she asked Yu if she could purchase dresses in bulk to re-sell to her friends and acquaintances.
At that time in Sposae’s history, Yu did not even see the dresses before they arrived to his customers. He has since developed his company to the point where he is eyeing eventual expansion beyond two Italian retail locations and his online commerce business.
Yu’s experience taught him some valuable lessons that he endeavored to pass on to his Drexel classmates.
“Study the market a lot, plan ahead, dream big, but never, never rush,” he says. “Sometimes selling more is not always better.”
Though Yu has “big plans” for Sposae, including a long-term expansion to Rome, Paris, London, and the U.S., his paramount goal is to finish his education at Drexel.
“I still consider my studies to be my first priority,” he says. “I believe that we have a lifetime to be an entrepreneur, but very limited years to be a student.”
Gray’s story has already become the stuff of Drexel lore. The LeBow entrepreneurship student has mugged it on magazine covers, made the rounds to local news stations and made a name for himself among entrepreneurs on both coasts. His company, Scholly, has created partnerships with some of the biggest names in higher education, and Gray and his co-founders continue to license their product for use by scholarship benefactors and other organizations. As Gray looks to continue developing Scholly’s Web platform, the mobile app is available for $.99 on iOS and Android.
"Being full time definitely allowed us to move a lot faster," Gray says of his co-op experience. "You get six months, and you get funding and office space to run your company. It gives you this incubation phase, with seed capital to get you started."
In collaboration with the Steinbright Career Development Center, the Entrepreneurship Co-op program is open to all Drexel undergraduate students, granting participants $15,000 to use their own company as their co-op experience.