Laura Martinez ‘21 has a big idea that she hopes will help college students better manage their money.
“I want to help students from all socioeconomic backgrounds understand the debt that they’re accruing while in college and how to handle their day-to-day expenses, from meal planning to budget tracking and goal setting, while they are still in school,” she says.
Martinez earned second place in Worcester State’s Next Big Idea Competition last year and has been selected for this semester’s I-Corps cohort group at WPI for her venture, “The Broke Students’ Guide,” an interactive financial literacy coaching smartphone app for college students.
The I-Corps program provides financial and mentoring support to student and/or faculty teams who think they have an idea that addresses a market need and has commercial potential. She hopes to launch the app shortly after graduation in May.
“The app is structured around handling college debt and also helping navigate things like, ‘What’s your day-to-day look like? What’s your semester look like? What are you going to do in the spring semester? Can you get a job in the summer?’” she says. “These are all things that many students, unfortunately, don’t really think through and so they’re left with what-ifs and regrets after they graduate.”
Martinez, a business major with a Spanish minor, aims to make the app user-friendly. “There’s a lot of information, especially on student debt, that can be very confusing and overwhelming, so my job is to try to humanize the process through cultural inclusivity and by creating an interactive experience,” she says.
Martinez came to Worcester from the Dominican Republic when she was eight years old. The app, while helpful to anyone, may be especially important to students from the Latinx community, she says. “I’m going to be the first in my family to graduate college and a lot of folks in my community are in similar situations, where it’s really hard to navigate not only what you’re going to do with your life, but day-to-day budget struggles,” she says.
She is a non-traditional student whose life experience gives her more insight on budgeting issues than a younger student might have. After graduating from high school in 2001, Martinez worked as a finance manager at an automobile dealership in Worcester for 10 years and in retail banking for three years.
“In those careers, I served the community I lived in and came to really understand that disconnect of really not wrapping your head around credit and debt and how expenses work and how that affects you for years to come,” she says. “So, having those one-on-one conversations throughout the years is what really lit the fire in me to generate something that would be easy for everyone in the community to use.”
As she started her college journey, that idea turned into something more defined and now she is just focusing on college students.
Another inspiration was the experience of friends who managed to get through college only to be hamstrung by a mountain of debt, making it challenging to finance a car, get an apartment, or buy a home.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be helpful for students before they enter school or that are already in school, whether they’re commuters or living on campus, whether they’re traditional or non-traditional, to really understand what it is they’re signing up for and how to make sure that they’re not drowning in debt when they leave school?”
Her plan is to sell the app to educational institutions who then would provide it to students. To achieve that goal, I-Corps has urged her to have conversations with decision makers in higher education to make sure that her idea is viable, and to find out what steps she needs to take to make it happen. She has begun that process and hopes it will help her network with people who may be interested in assisting her in moving the project forward.
“Right now, I’m interviewing people in financial aid offices so I can get a real understanding of my customer base,” she says. “I actually just finished interviewing the Worcester State Financial Aid Office, which was a great experience. They were really very helpful.”
Martinez is also one of eight Santander Bank Venture Scholars who received $1,000 venture grants to move their entrepreneurial idea forward.
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