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Student Entrepreneur's Graduation Wear Business Taking Off

By Noell Saunders

Thousands of students graduate every year and Christina Zhu, a graduate student at Old Dominion, wants to be the one helping them dress for the occasion.

When Zhu's husband received his doctorate in 2010, his cap and gown had a hefty price tag of $200. She wondered if there might be a way to find the garments cheaper. Zhu went to China to visit family and discussed the idea of starting a business that sells discounted graduation wear with a friend.

Through connections, she found a company that was interested in her business venture and could offer the product manufacturing at a low cost.

In the past two years, Zhu has turned her vision into reality with her online company GradWYSE, which sells graduation regalia, supplies and novelty items. She started her company in 2015 with help from ODU's Strome Entrepreneurial Center. It wasn't an easy start, but now the business is moving in the fast lane.

Today, GradWYSE is listed as a top-seller for the multinational online shopping giant eBay. It's also set to become a vendor for Virginia Tech.

"They chose me. I couldn't believe it," Zhu said. "I will be selling diploma covers to Virginia Tech. I'm so excited."

Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, said Zhu's passion is impressive.

"It was so exciting to hear Christina had won a contract because it validates her value proposition of being easy to access and affordable," said Grden. "Christina never lost sight of her vision for this company; didn't let negative feedback get in her way. She was also selected by her peers to be a board member for our new student entrepreneur store THE Monarch Way and I think that's a testament to her success and leadership."

Zhu will earn her master's degree in accounting in 2019. After graduation, she plans to pursue her business full time and focus on expanding.

"Strome was a big part of my success. It took a lot of research and sacrifices but I'm happy with the results," she said. "I can't wait to go to my commencement wearing my product."

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