With NFL linebacker’s help, Latino start-up aims to be the Netflix of education

Michael Willard and Felix Rouen live the American dream. After visiting the country’s best universities, they created an online learning tool that they hope, according to Rouen, “will help children who are like the two of us”.

Rouen, the son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in Los Angeles, California, and attended public schools before studying at Harvard University and eventually getting a job at McKinsey.

Willard, whose family is from Colombia, was the first person from his high school to attend the Ivy League school. He began his higher education at a public college and attended seven schools for five years before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. Willard later worked at Uber, where he helped launch Uber Freight.

Willard and Rouen, who were similar, noticed differences between themselves and their classmates in the respective institutions of the Ivy League.

The resources enjoyed by their peers and the teachers they became acquainted with from an early age prepared them for professional success. Combining their expertise in technology, education and entrepreneurship – and drawing on the connections they have made in school and at work – they launched Emile Learning in October 2020, an online educational platform that offers accredited courses that may be available for many students.

Their mission, to provide quality education to every student in the world, resulted in a $ 5.3 million investment in angels from sponsors including Softbank, Owl Ventures and Kleiner Perkins (which supported the two most successful online education companies, Duolingo and Coursera, both now public) .

Using the power of connections

Willard attributes much of his success to the power of education and networking. He felt on his own lips how higher education, especially in prestigious universities, opens new doors and connects him with teachers who will later contribute to the development of his business and attract capital. His network at Uber has played a transformative role in the company as Uber Alum Syndicate executives have invested in the startup and linked Billard to Uber alumni. Of the first 40 employees, about 30 percent were from the travel platform.

For Willard, education is the key to success, and Emile Learning is committed to “helping children open up any opportunity anywhere,” because not everyone has access to education in the Ivy League or a network in a large corporation with a market capitalization of about $ 60 billion.

“After all, from what zip code you were born or what wealth in your family largely determines your education, and your education dictates your lifelong trajectory,” Willard said. “We want to provide [someone from] any socioeconomic status or zip code with higher education that is available. If we can enable someone in the country and ultimately around the world to access the best education, it is a monumental upsurge for society. ”

Many successful entrepreneurs seek to solve a problem that they witness or experience firsthand. For Willard, this happened at the beginning of the pandemic, when he was earning an MBA from UCLA and saw his university struggling to adapt to the digital learning environment.

“If universities are struggling to make the transition to the digital world, how will high school in North Dakota or Nebraska handle it?” Said Willard.

Emile Learning first taught high-achieving students who wanted to improve their scores on AP exams and enroll in college. But after Emil received accreditation for his courses, Willard and Rouen saw greater potential in business.

Armed with the desired accreditation, they could provide school districts with classes for students of all backgrounds in both core and extracurricular topics, giving students the opportunity to complete their studies in a timely manner and gain access to critical curricula (such as personal finance) that are rarely required. high school.

Brandon Copeland, an NFL defender, personal finance instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of CNBC’s Financial Recovery Board, decided to join the platform as both an investor and an instructor because he appreciated the company’s commitment to a diverse range of subjects.

“We make sure that young people have access not only to traditional classes, things we all learned in high school … I focus on giving people a real education, things we will actually use in life, and so we are coordinated in this mission, ”Copeland said.

Copeland says he was able to make his dream come true because he learned to manage his money, control his resources and pursue financial well-being. At Emile Learning he hopes to enable his students through financial education to realize their dreams.

“When I think about the real impact and heritage creation, the opportunity to teach someone about their money – how to use their money, how to maximize their money, how to make money – I personally think it’s something that will continue with them. If you teach someone about money, you not only change their lives, but I hope you change the lives of their children, the lives of their families and their community, ”said Copeland.

When school districts began receiving funding to help Covid during the pandemic, some counties turned to Emile Learning, which created a digital infrastructure for distance learning. Government tax dollars now fund student membership, which means that many children who lack the resources to acquire a membership can get free access to HiEmile.com courses.

“Dollars from the state tax are intended to improve educational opportunities [less affluent] areas, ”Vilardo said. “Children can use our product for free, and this allows us to be able to influence children of any socioeconomic status living in any zip code in the United States”

Education is more important now than ever, Willard says, as students (especially in less affluent areas) cope with the impact of the pandemic on their education.

“Our main focus now is to help all these students, especially those who fell behind during the pandemic,” he said. “We are going to help them bridge this gap and be able to come out with more confidence after using our products.”

Saturated market for online learning

Many platforms connected during the pandemic to offer virtual education as traditional simple schools struggled to quickly create the digital infrastructure needed for adequate online learning. For example, Outschool has gained popularity by offering teachers an online marketplace to offer their own courses through Zoom. Adults and children signed up for the master class to gain access to high-quality content taught by celebrities and industry experts. Kids flocked to YouTube not only for fun but also for educational clips.

Despite a busy market, Emile Learning stands out by offering what several other platforms can do: accreditation.

“We are sure of that [our] accreditation is a serious differentiation, ”Willard said. “You can’t apply for admission to the University of Michigan watching YouTube or a master class. … With Emil, you can easily apply for college and earn a confirmed loan.

Copeland says the platform sets itself apart from similar products with its unique approach to providing content.

“We will continue to be different, making sure we attract our students in a unique way,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re using the hottest trends in technology and communication to meet young people where they are, not force them into the education system.”

Willard says interacting with their content is like “watching your favorite Netflix documentary or documentary. You can’t go to bed and you have to watch the next episode. You study, study and are in such a state of mind. “

As a documentary series, Emil’s courses use high-quality elements of production to grab the audience’s attention. Courses are broken down into short segments lasting no more than 10 minutes, which, according to Willard, will be crucial to reaching the next generation of students who are accustomed to digital technology and rapidly evolving content.

“Children who enter high school in 10 years will become even more accustomed to learning in digital first format,” Willard said.

Combining an accredited curriculum with film production has led the company to build its own production studio in Los Angeles and hire experienced producers and filmmakers in addition to instructors.

“It is very possible to compare [our courses] to what you see in top-level screenwriters in the entertainment business, ”Willard said. “You have people who rigorously develop scripts … and work with very talented people who can uncover it and preach it in beautiful videography.”

But it is the teachers who are the superstars of their company, Willard said. “They educate people and produce more talent, which creates more gross domestic product. A more educated society means more opportunities for all participants, ”he added.

A spokesman for the NFL and a member of CNBC’s Financial Recovery Board, Brandon Copeland, is both an investor and an Emile Learning instructor.Travis Allison

On-camera faces are the key to Emile Learning’s success and appeal, and digital, pre-recorded Emile Learning courses allow companies to attract talent.

“Peloton has helped personal trainers – the best in the world – get compensation at the top of the market and leverage technology and media. We do [something] very similar to teachers, and this will allow our partners to have more intimate instructions, ”Willard said. “Meanwhile, teachers on the ground can focus on lagging students or students ahead for more intimate learning,” he added.

Many technology companies that were born to keep people at home during the pandemic, including Peloton and Zoom, are suffering after reaching high market ratings. Demand has declined with the lifting of pandemic restrictions and the return of people to personal activities, but Willard says Emile Learning has even greater growth potential after the pandemic, filling gaps in curricula and helping alleviate teacher shortages as educators leave the profession in search of better jobs. pay and working conditions.

Copeland says he believes in the company’s founders just as much as he believes in its mission.

“When it comes to financial education, there are a lot of people who do it solely for business and solely for show. These guys aren’t, ”Copeland said.“ Depending on what school you go to, there’s a difference in the quality of education you get. [Michael and Felix] I really want to change that. “

Disclosure: Invest in you: ready. Set. Grow. it is a financial well-being and education initiative from CNBC and Acorns, an application for microinvestment. Investors are NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures Acorns.

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