Finding a new way to pay college tuition


By Monica Sanders

[email protected]

Two UK students created a startup company that helps students pay for college in an unconventional way: by making their own scholarships.

FinanceU, a community-based platform, will launch Nov. 9.

Michael Lewis, finance and accounting sophomore, is the co-founder and CEO of the fledgling company who works alongside co-founder and COO TJ Barnett, a finance and management sophomore.

“I noticed a lot of trends when it came to students applying for scholarships. (There are) a lot of barriers that will stop you from getting the scholarship you need,” Lewis said. “I do not want students to feel like they are being defined by their ACT score, but by their interests and the true nature of themselves.”

FinanceU is a platform that will let students raise money for scholarships, similar to Kickstarter and GoFundMe, but focused solely on education. Lewis said it takes 30 seconds to sign up. Students create a profile for themselves, a scholarship, and the site helps them get in contact with people who will invest in the scholarship.

Lewis said the company was driven by asking how they could “create a platform to help students represent themselves and share who they are.”

The FinanceU team started a Kickstarter over the summer with the goal of raising $15,000, but ended up raising $16,000.

“People wanted a solution to the ‘lack of funding for education’ issue,” Lewis said. “FinanceU made sense and became a great project for the community to invest in.”

By the end of the year Barnett said they hope to have 2,500 students on the site and plan to have 40,000 students and $40 million of scholarship funding available in five years.

“Our short term goals are to buckle down and focus on crowdfunding education and have students succeed with that because it’s so brand new,” Barnett said.

The two founders of FinanceU also spend time competing in business competitions, which goes all the way back to their roots. The idea for FinanceU came to Lewis over the course of entrepreneurship week, they went to a pitch competition at Startup Weekend and won.

“We didn’t really have any plans for moving forward with it or expanding on FinanceU,” Barnett said — at the time both he and Lewis were freshmen.

“We weren’t really think about it, but then we placed third in the world in the Global startup battle. That’s when we were like ‘woah.’ We sat down for a few nights and really talked for hours about what FinanceU is, how we defined FinanceU and how can we expand on it.”

They have competed in multiple competitions, including UK’s Venture Challenge and Lexington Venture Challenge. In December they will be competing in 5 Across Finals, a pitch competition sponsored by Awesome Inc.

While the company started out unplanned, part of what keeps both Lewis and Barnett going is helping students like them.

“That’s what really brought us over the edge, was the fact that that we’re doing something we’re not only benefiting from, but it benefits students,” Barnett said.

As a student who has loan debt, Barnett said he understands students’ struggles.

“I love the concept of taking nothing, and making it into something,” Lewis said. “I have always been super busy, and I prefer being busy and doing something that will help people rather than doing nothing.”

Learn more about FinanceU on their website.