I'm pleased to announce the five winners of this year's Brad's Deals Scholarship!
Before we get to that, though, let's take a quick trip down memory lane and revisit the history behind the scholarship.
In 2001, I was like most college students: strapped for cash and blown away by the marked-up prices of textbooks and supplies at the campus bookstore at the University of North Carolina. I knew I could find better prices online, and that was what I set out to do.
I scoured the web for deals on items sold at the bookstore and posted them on a bare-bones website I'd created. I printed off 10,000 flyers, took them to the bookstore, and made it known to my peers - "you don't need to buy everything here! Visit my website and save money!"
A bit of self-taught HTML coding and a few partnerships with major retailers later, Brad's Deals was born. Now that we're in a position to give back, we've been recognizing college students across the country who display remarkable frugality, thrift, and ingenuity. In other words, our yearly scholarship is awarded to five of the best and brightest thrifty students who are willing to go out on a limb and trust their entrepreneurial spirit to save money and enhance their college experience.
So, without further ado, here are our 2014 winners! We received over 7,000 submissions, and it was truly difficult to narrow it down to five. Thanks to all who submitted an essay!
Jannatun financed her college experience by looking to her Bengali-Muslim heritage and learning to tailor women's salwars, a popular fashion item. Her mother was experienced in tailoring salwars, and she'd been doing it for years to earn a bit of extra income for the family. Jannatun saw real potential in her mother's side business and took it upon herself to learn the skills needed to pitch in.
After countless lessons of working with silk, georgette, and katan, Jannutun was ready to step in an assist her mother. Almost immediately, their customer base grew exponentially and they soon had enough money to make payments on her existing student loans and pay for upcoming semesters, eliminating the need to take out additional loans. At a net profit of about $200 per salwar, Jannatun and her mother's efforts became much more than a supplemental side business.
Lana found a creative solution for getting through college - by gardening. During her freshman year, she began growing heirloom tomato plants as a simple hobby. Noticing her tomatoes were in demand, Lana soon started selling them at local farmers' markets and on Craigslist. Soon enough she was growing over 300 plants at a time, at which point she applied for a business license from the State of Washington.
The next summer, Lana upped production by growing 600 tomatoes at a time - by this point she had built a greenhouse in her backyard for her tomato business. Over a few short months, Eureka! Tomatoes pulled in an impressive $3,000 in revenue, which went a long way toward Lana's college expenses.
Ryan used his entrepreneurial drive to start a small business while still in high school - Ryan's Garden Beds. The business built all-custom cedar garden beds, installed and fitted with premium garden soil and organic vegetable starts. Ryan's goal from the onset was to develop a sustainable business that could be passed down to future students, and to say he succeeded would be an understatement. Ryan's Garden Beds grossed nearly $20,000 in revenue at a 50% profit margin... in the first year alone.
Ryan's Garden Beds grew and Ryan helped classmates and friends get in on the business, as he commissioned classmates $25 for each bed sold. Next year, Ryan intends to double sales - a tall task, but I'm not betting against an entrepreneur as shrewd as Ryan.
Charles helped pay his way through college by putting his tech skills to use. While working two part-time jobs, he built an iPhone app called Snacks4u. For a seventy-five cent charge, Snacks4u would deliver a candy bar, chips, or fruit to a hungry, studying student's dorm room or the library. Within a few weeks, the app had exploded in popularity, and Charles' team of 8 employees was working around the clock to deliver snacks and earn money.
Soon, however, the university caught on and forced Charles to take down his app. Never one to give up, he and his friends started working on EasyEssay, an app that will print out a student's paper and have it hand-delivered to the class where it's due. Charles hopes to have the app up and running with the start of the upcoming school year.
Upon starting college, Ryan quickly realized that the unfortunate diet of Ramen Noodles that some students survive on wasn't going to cut it. He was training for a marathon and needed to recharge his body with something other than salty, preservative-packed noodles. To finance his diet, Ryan turned to Twitter and quickly noticed he could win free burritos from Qdoba by answering trivia questions. As Ryan puts it, he mastered the art of answering the trivia questions and won "dozens and dozens of delicious free burritos."
Ryan soon found another free food strategy. A local burger joint was offering free burgers for life to whoever could create the best original song and video promoting the restaurant. Ryan used free computer software and his musical talents to quickly churn out a winning video, and he became the proud winner of hundreds of free burgers.