Shireen Jaffer, a 20-year-old entering her junior year at USC’s Marshall School of Business, has a leg up on many of her classmates. She’s already the founder and executive director of a startup.

The enterprise she started in her freshman year helps high school students get a jump on their careers, and her experience starting the venture just helped her land a scholarship to further her own studies.

Based on an essay she wrote about launching her venture, which is called Project SuitUp, she was awarded a $2,000 scholarship for the coming academic year from Phoenix factoring firm FSW Funding.

Project SuitUp sponsors conferences and networking events in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for high school students. About 25 students each pay roughly $200 for the opportunity to attend the events, which connect them with mentors from a variety of professions. The idea is to help students get internships that will give them an advantage as they apply to colleges and ponder their career paths.

She applied for the FSW grant in the spring and was announced as the winner this month.

Scholarship in hand, Jaffer is now starting the new school year. She’s also ramping up her efforts at the startup, leaving a part-time job at Northwestern Mutual to devote her extracurricular efforts to Project SuitUp.

She’s hoping to graduate early – at the end of this year – and wants to encourage a similar focus in the students who attend her events.

“It’s just about really preparing students to start early with what they want to do,” she said. “The last thing we want them to do is major in medicine and then after two years switch to business. I want to get rid of that time wastage.”

– Jonathan Polakoff

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