Danielle Jeffers speaks to a freshman year management class for the Entrepreneur track overseen by Sean Collins, Director, Apex Center for Entrepreneurs.

Student Entrepreneur Works to Help Others Keep College Debt to a Minimum

Danville Virginia native Danielle Jeffers’ journey as an entrepreneur began as many others do—with a personal experience that opens one’s eyes to identify a need that can be filled or solved with a business idea. Jeffers experienced just that and the soon to be VA Tech graduate is now a young business owner who travels to speak in local communities.

Jeffers’ determination and initiative as well as some hardship propelled her on a path she did not see coming. After years of hoping to play basketball in college, a torn ACL in early high school meant she had to rethink her future and she “decided to focus more on academics.”

That commitment and subsequent hard work led her to qualify for enrollment in the area governor’s school program and she took many dual enrollment classes at her local community college, earning college credits that would prove to be crucial.

Jeffers says that her world was upended again when her parents “sat me down my senior year and told me they couldn’t afford to send me to college but of course I still had to go. That was a tough conversation that I wish we had had earlier.” Her parents had both suffered health issues for a few years which had impacted the family’s income, but Jeffers was not prepared for this reality so close to the end of high school.

With little time to plan “I talked to my friends and family who advised me to quickly start applying for scholarships. I had a high GPA and so with their help I applied for a lot of scholarships—thirty in all, eventually earning fourteen of them.” This meant when she entered the “college that fit me best –  Virginia Tech – between the aid and the transfer credits I had accrued, I did not need to take on debt, which was a huge blessing.”

When Jeffers arrived at VT she was surprised: “I knew my story was different but didn’t know HOW different it was.”

She began to hear from her new friends about the worry of student debt—that they were taking on tens of thousands in loans which felt unconscionable to her. “I had a very tough load academically but I saw a need—I said ‘I’m going to help you my friends!’”

In November she happened to hear about a business pitch competition sponsored by VT‘s Apex Center for Entrepreneurs. She took her idea of financial aid coaching and entered the start-up funding contest. “I pitched there and made it to the finals! I was calling friends and family and was so excited. I had never had an experience like that before.”

While she didn’t win, she received a lot of feedback through the process and by the second semester of her freshman year, in January 2016, Jeffers founded “Dough 4 Degrees” (www.dough4degrees.com), a scholarship coaching company which teaches through independent resources like eBooks. Jeffers has since been able to raise over $75,000 for Dough 4 Degrees.

“Apex Center for Entrepreneurs is a core reason why I’ve been able to run my business and stay in school, a high priority I never lost sight of. I was able to bounce ideas off them, and learned a lot about time management. I continually leverage my experience with Apex to talk to others, begin a conversation and make a connection. I have met people from all over the world. I always try to figure out how to stand out amongst the crowd,” said Jeffers.

Jeffers has deepened her experience through a leadership position she holds in VT’s “Innovate,” a residential program offered through Apex that offers residents additional support and access to guest speakers, advisory boards and the support of fellow like-minded students, a responsibility Jeffers takes seriously.

She acknowledges that her focus and drive aren’t necessarily the norm across college populations. “I came into college having a game plan—I look at college as an investment, not just something you do because everyone else does it.” She adds that Dough 4 Degrees is more than a side project, it’s a lifestyle business. “I want my work to transform the way people look at a debt-free degree and life.”

She stresses the misconception that only certain people can benefit: “There is a lot of money available for people from every background.” Dough 4 Degrees is more than a side project, it’s a lifestyle.

Jeffers says she supports her clients in two ways. “They will get a listing from the scholarships data base we share in four categories: national, regional, local and institutional. The scholarship application process can be so dense that time management is key. We help our clients master the different components of scholarships so they can put them together more easily. We also offer eight weekly game plans to help overcome the common struggle with time management.” And then there is the potential value. “People ask me how much time it’s going to take them. When I say 10 hours a week, they often say ‘that’s too much work.’”

Jeffers replies with an example of just one scholarship application she earned. “I applied for a $6,000 scholarship that required an essay and 25-30 multiple choice questions which took me four hours to complete. Not only did I earn the first place award, but they flew me and a guardian to Las Vegas to accept it! That will help me 20 years from now when I don’t have to worry about paying off loans.”

Jeffers said, “When I was in high school I had friends tell me they could earn $7.50 an hour at the local restaurant. That scholarship paid me in theory at the rate of $1,500 an hour!”

Upcoming Event:  January 2 – 6, 2019 | Silicon Valley Bank Trek | San Francisco, CA | Jeffers will serve as Student Entrepreneur Representative for Virginia Tech | Sponsored by the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs

Calling All Hokies: For those who find themselves wistful that the Apex program sounds exciting but inaccessible, it turns out that VT support for entrepreneurs isn’t limited to high level science initiatives or even to graduate students. Apex Center for Entrepreneurs “provides any Hokie, from any major and any year the opportunity to engage in all phases of the entrepreneurship and innovation process, and encourages alumni to interface with the next generations of entrepreneurs.”

Visit https://www.apex.vt.edu/about/ for more information.

Cheryl Vosburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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