Student Startup Gradwyse offers discounted Graduation Regalia
Christina Zhu never thought that missing the Old Dominion University “Grad Fair,” the three-day period students are given to purchase their graduation regalia on campus, would result in starting her own company. However, after spending $225 for her cap, gown and diploma frame, plus paying $20 in shipping for the online purchase, she knew there had to be a more cost efficient way for students to get what they needed.
With the help of the faculty and advisers at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, Zhu created a business plan for a company that would sell regalia at a cheaper price, and even rent it out, which is something that isn’t offered at ODU.
“Every year, many graduating students call the commencement office before graduation asking if they can rent regalia because they don’t want to pay so much money to buy them,” Zhu said.
This past summer, Zhu, an international student, traveled to China to visit family, and during the vacation she found an investor and manufacturing facility for her company, Gradwyse. Her investor, a friend who has done research on American graduating students, decided to help her out.
“Of course as a business we need money, and we talked about our ideas to one of my friends, and he was just very interested in my business idea,” Zhu said. “Most people wear their regalia once in their lifetime. So we just want to provide better quality, and a cheaper price for students to help them save money.”
Using Gradwyse, students and faculty can rent their regalia for as low as $19.98 and buy for as low as $39.98.
Zhu is constantly working to expand her business, and right now her plan for next semester is to have diploma frames available at a cheaper cost than the Village Bookstore and ODU branded merchandise. Eventually, she said she would like to expand her business to other colleges and even high schools. She is also collaborating with CampusWise CEO, Max Hall, who launched his textbook-selling business in 2014.
“To be able to use a year’s worth of experience to kind of do it again with Christina has been extremely helpful, and useful,” Hall said.
Gradwyse launched in the fall semester of 2015, and because of the exclusive contract ODU has with the Village Bookstore, Gradwyse cannot have any production on campus. They also cannot physically sell any regalia on campus. The inconvenience isn’t stopping Zhu, though. Her website is functioning and ready to sell.
“Actually, our first customer is a faculty member of the business school,” Zhu said
The question is how receptive is ODU to a business that takes money away from the university?
“It’s always a gray area, but the entrepreneurial center has been very helpful,” Hall said.
He also mentioned that one of the great things about his collaboration with Zhu is that they can successfully share and refer clients to one another, while ultimately helping students spend less money for their already expensive educations.
One customer concern Zhu has encountered is that students are not sure if the regalia she is selling is the same as those sold in the Village Bookstore. Her answer is that her regalia is made based on the Academic Costume Code, published by the American Council on Education, which is also adopted by ODU.
Ultimately, Zhu had one message she wanted to share with students: “Choose Gradwyse, save money!”