Changing the Educational Landscape
While industries like media, entertainment, and fitness have seen radical advances in both digital and user experience capabilities, education has largely been left behind. Since COVID-19 hit, it’s become increasingly clear that virtual learning environments and on-demand video experiences are essential for students’ ability to learn effectively and build relationships with peers. Recognizing the shift in educational priorities spurred by COVID-19 and seeing the shortfalls of typical remote learning, Emile was founded to create a global community of learners.
Emile Learning is a subscription-based digital learning platform that offers professional-quality short-form on-demand videos and a proprietary learning management system (LMS) focused on content mastery — all in a single platform that students can access anywhere, anytime. Emile is on a mission to create the best possible online learning experience for high schoolers, one that borrows product and design principles from the best consumer tech applications. Made up of educators, engineers, designers, and business analysts, Emile is rethinking the traditional education model to enable students to be more collaborative, engaged, and flexible with their learning.
Chicago, Hockey, and a Passion for Education
Growing up in a small midwestern town, COO and Co-Founder Michael Vilardo didn’t even know what an Ivy League University was until it came time for his college admissions process. After becoming the first student from his town to both attend and graduate from an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania alum came to UCLA Anderson for his MBA to engage his passion for startups and entrepreneurship, as well as his desire to support underrepresented communities from an education standpoint. Michael is a member of The Consortium — an alliance of leading American business schools and some of the country’s top corporations that seek to enhance diversity in business education and leadership — and the Riordan Program, which provides leadership and management training to diverse individuals all over the country.
Michael’s passion for education intersected with his entrepreneurial drive through the Riordan Program where he met Emile CEO and Co-Founder, Felix Ruano. Born and raised in Los Angeles's Koreatown, Felix was one of two students from his high school to leave the state for college, graduating from Harvard University in 2017. Michael mentored Felix during the program, and the two quickly bonded over their interest in hockey, their time living in Chicago, and their Latino roots. Even after the Riordan Program, the two attended hockey games together and then remained close through Zoom hangouts when COVID-19 hit.
In between Michael’s summer internship as a Digital Product Manager at Nike and the start of his second year at UCLA Anderson, Michael and Felix decided the time was right to found Emile. Combining Felix’s knowledge of the education space and time as a Strategy Consultant at McKinsey with Michael’s technology and strategy experience, Emile is well-positioned to hit the ground running.
The timing also proved to be right for Emile’s third Co-Founder and CTO, Jon Quiros. At the same time Felix recruited Michael, he also inspired Jon to join the team. Jon had been working as the youngest Tech Lead at Dun & Bradstreet, and as the son of a teacher and a fellow Latino, he shared the drive to marry best-in-class technology with educational access for all high schoolers. Together, the three launched a beta version of Emile in December 2020, providing three AP classes in Biology, Literature, and Government, with plans to add eight additional courses this month in topics such as Calculus, Psychology, and Physics.
Access for All
The initial strategy focuses on the AP course market as the disparities are stark and ripe for disruption. Access to AP classes largely depends on a student’s zip code as educational opportunities decrease dramatically outside of major cities. According to the Fordham Institute, rural high school seniors are only two-thirds as likely to take an AP exam as their suburban and urban peers, and more than half of high-poverty rural schools do not even offer AP classes. The divide also extends into income class and race. The most recent College Board’s “Report to the Nation” states that in 2013, black students made up only 4.2% of exam-takers in AP Computer Science, despite making up 14.5% of all graduating seniors. For Latino students, the comparable numbers are 9% and 18.8%, respectively. Emile’s AP classes level the playing field by pairing best-in-class educators with personalized and on-demand learning so that students can learn at a pace that works best for them.
"We're creating a learning experience that resembles the high-quality and engagement that students expect from any of their consumer applications. COVID has accelerated the necessity for students to become fluent with digital learning tools. But existing tools have fallen short. This is the perfect time for a company and community like ours." - Felix Ruano, Co-Founder and CEO
Emile is applying the Peloton model for fitness classes to the education space with a digital monthly membership and a hybrid model of unlimited on-demand classes, digital community building, and office hours for $20 per month. Students receive their first month free with a score guarantee — if a student does not receive a grade of three or higher on the AP Exam, he or she will receive an additional three months of Emile membership, free of charge. Typically, AP exams cost $95 and can replace a college course that ranges in price from $500 to $5,000 depending on the college or university. With Emile, students can advance their chances of getting into a top college or university while greatly decreasing the total cost of their education.
The Future of Education
There are three key differentiators that have contributed to Emile’s initial success. The first is professional-quality video production. Now that students consume media daily from services like YouTube and Netflix, the bar for video quality has been raised, and Emile is committed to meeting this expectation. Students also expect an easy to navigate, thoughtfully-designed UI/UX experience, which is why Emile has prioritized engineering and design resources to replicate the technological experience students have become accustomed to on their favorite recreational sites (TikTok, Instagram, etc.). Perhaps most importantly, Emile taps into Gen Z’s desire to belong and create genuine connections. According to a 2019 Spotify study, 62% of Gen Zers believe brands have the power to create communities based on common interests and passions. Emile is capitalizing on this need with organic opportunities to build connections with other students and teachers and share with friends, creating a network effect across the country.
Long-term, Emile’s vision is to become a fully-accredited high school where both domestic and international students can advance their education on their own terms. As a fully-accredited high school, Emile will be able to provide opportunities for both groups, while still fulfilling its mission to improve the academic and economic potential of all learners.
As of January 2021, Emile has already raised $550K, has launched eleven classes, and has 1,000+ members on the platform. With the goal of launching 30+ classes for the 2021-2022 school year, the team is looking to raise $350K to complete its pre-seed, $750K funding round. Emile is committed to hiring top educators for its platform and improving the way students and teachers interact. As Latino founders, diversity, equity, and inclusion are a priority for this next stage of growth. Currently, Emile’s team — including both instructors and the founding team — is 100% represented by women or minorities. The company plans to ensure that a diverse group of educators continues to represent the student population it teaches.
“I am most motivated by empowering students to maximize their potential on their own terms,” says Michael, “If we can help impact the generational status shift by maximizing students' abilities to accelerate their studies and receive entrance into the best colleges possible for them, we will be proud social entrepreneurs. I am so excited and proud to be working on such a systematic issue.”