It was late on a Thursday evening in 2015 and Jasmine Chigbu, then a recent Duke undergrad alumna, was nearing her third hour of searching for scholarships so she could go to graduate school.
Scholly, the site designed to find scholarships? Looked there. Plain ol’ Google searching? Did that. Found the right one? Nope.
Well, she did find a couple, but it took so long that Chigbu resorted to tracking the ones she found in an Excel spreadsheet. As a Black female and first-generation American, Chubgu wished there was a platform where she could easily filter what she was eligible for and not waste her time or miss potential opportunities.
Chigbu ended up securing over $300,000 in scholarships and grants to attend the Duke School of Medicine, but the process was so cumbersome that she wanted to do something to help other students so they didn’t have to go through what she did.
She started just sharing her spreadsheet with other students, but the overwhelming need for it and response she received from grateful students pushed her to start MTM, a curated and searchable scholarship database, in 2017.
MTM is participating in the 2021 Melissa & Doug Duke Summer Accelerator and is the only curated scholarship database specifically for BIPOC students.
“MTM evolved out of my own struggles,” Chigbu said. “Once I was able to do this for myself I started asking, how can I help other students? So MTM’s aim is to better match students to available opportunities so they no longer have to spend hours on Google, searching through broken links.”
Chigbu’s process certainly worked for her. She received her Masters Degree in Biomedical Sciences from the Duke School of Medicine in 2017 and is working toward earning her MD from the school in 2022.
Other scholarship database websites like Scholly require students to pay an annual fee to use, an added financial barrier that students already searching for financial help don’t need. That’s why MTM is free for students, because colleges and institutions purchase subscriptions on behalf all of their students.
MTM began a pilot with NC Central University in January and found that, on average, before the pilot, students were only finding three or four scholarships for which they felt like they matched well with. When they used MTM’s database, that number increased to 12 to 15.
MTM also helps students target the scholarships they need by showing visually what their financial gap is. That way, they know exactly what to search for based on their needs, as opposed to applying to every scholarship they find, Chigbu said.
“Students have loved it so far,” Chigbu said. “They say we are saving them a lot of time, and as opposed to going to Google, they can trust the resources in our database and they know the links aren’t broken and the information is updated. And they get a glimpse of what they’ve matched with, which boosts their confidence and they feel more confident approaching the scholarship process because they have some guidance.”
Chigbu said she’s talking with a few colleges to be potential customers and she hopes to have them onboarded and officially launch MTM by the end of the year. The MTM team currently consists of Chigbu as CEO, two other team members and a summer college intern working on UI/UX and crafting the user experience.
MTM raised $30,000 in non-dilutive funds and recently won $70,000 from the Duke Fuqua and NCC Business Competition.
A broken system
As the cost of attending college in the U.S. increased dramatically over the decades (an understatement), so has the level of student debt: at the end of 2020, there was $1.7 trillion in outstanding student debt in the U.S.
It’s a virtual dumpster fire in the U.S. that Chigbu hopes to address by not only creating a system where students are better matched to scholarships, but by educating students through financial workshops so they aren’t unknowingly accruing debt that will follow them for decades.
Most of MTM’s users will be high school seniors or college undergraduates, who often times are strapped with debt simply because they are unaware of what they are signing up for with student loans. Chigbu wants to set students up for a lifetime of financial empowerment and independence, so she plans for the website to host modules on financial literacy, taxes, investing and the types of loans and how to pay them back.
“We really think that if we can address it now and reduce that loan debt and increase their knowledge about finances, that will lead to less problems in the future and they’ll have more financial freedom,” Chigbu said.
Moreover, many students attend a four-year college just because they think they have to, and end up with significant debt. Attending a two-year community college and becoming a welder can yield a career earning $100K a year, for instance, but that narrative isn’t advertised nearly as much to high schoolers as a viable option, Chigbu said.
“We should broaden this idea of what higher education looks like and what that means for your financial future,” Chigbu said. “Because kids who don’t really want to be in a four-year school are pushed there anyways because they think it’s what their next step is, and they’re stuck with debt for years when they could have gone on an alternate path. But because it’s considered non-traditional, it’s somehow taboo. So it’s all about, how do we give students a better understanding and vision of what that spectrum actually looks like? You can go to your college and get a great degree, you could not go to college, you could pursue something else—but making sure that you’re not going to a four-year college just to be strapped with debt.”