Midtown: Community

Cornering the market on students’ futures

When Ty McDuffie heard a voice on the radio suggest “investing” in students, he decided to take it literally.

McDuffie is launching StockofU.com, a website dedicated to helping students earn money for college and make networking contacts by allowing them to sell shares in their college development, stock market-style.

Shares start at $2 apiece. As students improve their grades, log community service hours, enter class notes and more, their shares’ worth skyrockets.

The site is currently in test phases, set to go fully operational later this year. Since it’s a free site for students, McDuffie hopes to make his profit from corporations who register to find students who are a good fit for their business post-graduation.

Staff writer Chelsea Kellner snagged an interview with McDuffie last week to hear where the Raleigh-based “serial entrepreneur” hopes it’s headed.

Responses have been edited for length.

Q: How does the website work?

A: We allow students to treat themselves like their own corporations. Let’s say you’re a freshman – you get 400 shares of yourself you can sell. The way they control the prices of the shares is through their activities – the website assigns dollar values to certain activities, so let’s say you write a blog post, then your share price goes up a dollar, and so on.

The minimum price is $2 per share, and goes up as high as $15. The investor is committing up to $15, depending on how well the student does. Students must have a verifiable .edu email address to join.

Q: Can a student’s share lose value?

A: The website will penalize you for nonactivity, but we’re more lenient with the possibility of prices dropping. It takes more for the price to drop than for it to go up. We know students are busy.

Q: Where did this idea come from?

A: A year and a half ago, as I was driving home from work, I heard this term everybody has heard hundreds of times before, but for some reason it hit home for me at that particular time: “Invest in your kids’ future.” I thought, I could make something where people find it interesting and fun and innovative to invest in kids they don’t even know, and it could be a means for helping more kids than just my own get through school.

For my girls, I want to provide every opportunity to get out there and, by the strength of their own work, afford to get and stay in college. I want to give all kids a chance to shine even if their GPA isn’t perfect. This is an opportunity to provide a complete picture of a student who maybe doesn’t take tests well, but has leadership potential.

Q: How does the website verify the information that makes stock prices rise?

A: For community service hours, we have a system built in where it has to be with a nonprofit registered with our website. They will get a verification email that then goes back to your page, records your hours and affects your share accordingly.

There are certain things we are not going to be able to verify – like for instance, when students upload pages of class notes – but for things we can’t verify, we deliberately set the price value much lower.

Q: How does the money get paid out?

A: We’re doing checks to the financial aid departments, not directly to students.

Q: How does all this benefit the investors?

A: There’s nothing out there that gives a picture of how well-rounded a student is or how good a fit they can be in your organization. This allows companies that sign up as investors to build relationships with students, and allows students to do the same to help find jobs early in the game.

Q: What’s your long-term plan for the site?

A: I want it to grow as big as possible, but I don’t want to sell it. We want to decrease college dropout rates and increase the number of students we help through college.