Within his own life, Demetrius Curry saw the impact that going to college could have on someone. But he also saw the barriers to that opportunity faced by many. So he formed a company aimed at making college educations more accessible.
Fort Worth-based College Cash, a content creation platform that helps users pay off their student loan debt, has been on a tear after officially launching last year. And as it nears closing on a seed funding round, Curry is looking to expand the platform’s purpose into helping people pay down debt from a number of life’s costly milestones—while making those milestones more attainable for all.
“Basically, we decided to change the way people look at debt as a whole,” Curry told Dallas Innovates. “Everything that you’re worried about, that you know is going to hit you later, we allow you to start planning for and working towards offsetting before you even get started in high school. It’s like a sense of relief and it allows you to do so many things differently.”
Earning cash through content creation
Here’s how it works: Brands partner with College Cash, which develops a social campaign for the brand. Users on the platform are then able to join that campaign by creating video and photo content, for which they’re compensated in the form of paying down their student loan debt. For example, a sports team could create a campaign with a call for users to post their favorite gameday picture.
With a focus on making an impact in users’ lives, Curry said the idea is to create campaigns that don’t require outside purchases. The businesses get tax-deductible user-generated content—which the company Sprout Social calls the “bread and butter” of social media marketing—that can be used for their advertising and marketing campaigns. They also get the social impact of saying they helped pay down the student loan debt of all the College Cash users who joined their campaign. Meanwhile, users get the benefit of taking another notch out of their debt.
“These campaigns are housed in our system. Once you post a picture, other users can’t see it,” Curry said. “It’s not about community; we are a curated source for authentic user-generated content.”
$50 is the minimum threshold for joining a campaign
Curry said $50 is the minimum threshold of what a user gets for joining a campaign. He added that someone joining the platform while still in high school has the potential to earn roughly between $20,000 and $25,000 by the time they graduate, while someone who joins up while starting college could earn between $10,000 to $15,000 by the end of their undergraduate career.
But it’s not just high school and college students who can sign up. People far beyond their college career and well into their professional life who are still paying off their student loans can also join the platform and take part in the campaigns to pay down their debt—with no limit on the amount they can earn.
“We’re really able to help anyone from 13 years old to 60 years old,” Curry said.
Building on founder’s background
The idea for College Cash was born from Curry’s own experience. Calling himself a “non-traditional founder by default,” Curry was born on Chicago’s South Side. His high school years were spent in group homes, boy’s homes, and being homeless. Before graduating, he dropped out and joined the Marines. After his service, he said he still found himself wandering. At that point, he decided to get his GED and go to college, which eventually led him to places like PNC Bank and Huntington Bank.
Because of that background, Curry says he has long worked with at-risk youth to help them become successful. While doing that, he realized that as for himself, student loan debt was a large barrier for many potential students to even begin the process of getting into college.
“I built something that I wanted to have a ripple impact on something that matters, and that’s the financial situation of most people,” Curry said. “I would love to say that…we will be a central hub, connecting all of these organizations and all these major forms of debt by everyday behavior. However, if nobody knew who we were, but we were benefiting everybody, I’d be fine with that, too.”
Steady growth and a moment in the spotlight
Like the course of Curry’s life, College Cash is on a growth trajectory. He formed the company in 2019, finding traction with early investments through Overlooked Ventures and joining Capital Factory’s portfolio, which takes a 1% stake in its companies. College Cash was also one of the first investments of Impact Ventures’ Dallas Inclusive Capital Fund.
During that time, College Cash was putting in the work to build out the platform, which launched last year, not long after Curry got a call from TechCrunch about doing an article on the company. In the article, Curry details the struggles of early-stage founders of color to find investors. However, he says that’s becoming less of a problem for him with the boost in popularity the article garnered. Curry says his company is a little more than a month from closing a $1 million seed funding round. He added that over the last 12 months, College Cash’s valuation has nearly tripled.
“The more people that hear about us, the more companies and brands want to work with us,” Curry said.
Taking on other major forms of debt
This year, College Cash has begun to expand beyond a solution for paying off student loan debts to what Curry calls an “alternative debt solution,” aimed at helping people with a number of major forms of debt. After taking part in Washington, D.C.’s Village Capital accelerator program in March, which provided College Cash with $10,000 in funding, the company began working with Freddie Mac—a partner of the accelerator program—to explore ways to use the platform to help people put money toward a mortgage down payment.
Curry said the company is also working with a credit union, which he was put in touch with after joining the inaugural FinTech|X Accelerator program put on by Tampa Bay Wave and the University of South Florida Muma College of Business, to allow users to put cash-back rewards toward debt payments. Curry said that came out of his winning the SXSW speed pitch in the social and culture vertical this year.
He added that other plans include allowing users to put money toward things like retirement and emergency savings accounts.
Curry teased other upcoming partnerships. And with new funding on the horizon, he said College Cash plans to build out its team and technology in hopes of causing the largest “ripple effect” to help people build better lives.
“It backs up our mission, because it’s using everyday behavior that you don’t have to really buy anything for, but it’s able to affect every form of debt that you will be worried about,” Curry said. “We used to say that we’re a platform that uses everyday behavior to reduce student loan debt. But now we say we’re a platform that uses everyday behavior to address major forms of debt before you even get it.”
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