LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Many of us know the college struggle of eating ramen for dinner, or rationing meal swipes for lunch.
It was no different for Northern Kentucky University graduate and Oldham County native Isaiah Kelly.
To make it through that college struggle, the 23-year-old Kelly went from being a student to an entrepreneur in three years.
”I’m frugal with my money,” Kelly said. “Shoes can get extremely expensive. So I figured if I could get a base shoe, I can just paint it the way I like it. I don’t have to pay $500 to $600 for a name brand stock.”
After turning YouTube into his own university, the student who wanted nothing to do with fashion learned how to get shoes for cheap and turn them into a lucrative business called Smoove Creations.
”I fell in love with art and what you can do on shoes,” Kelly said, “and turn something that is essentially blank and turn it into something beautiful.”
What he can do with a shoe landed his kicks in the hands of athletes, major companies and organizations across the country. How he pitches at the upcoming Rice Business Plan Competition could land him a $1.5 million prize if he wins.
Out of 440 applicants, Kelly was one of 54 chosen to compete to pitch his project to nearly 300 investors in the world’s richest and largest student startup competition that works like a virtual version of Shark Tank.
”I want to be a role model,” Kelly said. “I definitely want to give back. 2020 was a difficult year. One thing I took away from my race and my people is a lot of times we don’t own anything. There’s not enough entrepreneurs, not enough businesses owners.”
Kelly said snagging the top prize will allow his company to acquire equipment to customize shoes within minutes of them being ordered, so his shoes can sneak into your closet faster.
Kelly, who is now working on his master’s degree, started designing shoes in 2017 and launched his company as an LLC in 2019.
He’ll find out if he wins on April 9.