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Founder's Five + K-12

Founder’s Five: Felix Ruano, Subject

Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.

Felix Ruano and his co-founder, Michael Vilardo, founded Subject in October 2020 to increase the availability of high-quality online learning course options for high school students.

Subject offers on-demand access to summer school courses for credit recovery, Advanced Placement courses that might not otherwise fit with a student’s schedule, and a wide variety of elective options. The company also provides course options in cutting-edge topics like cryptocurrency and financial literacy, as well as subjects such as computer science, philosophy, and acting (not available in many schools).

Subject is accredited by WASC and offers standards-aligned curriculum approved by the College Board, NCAA, and UC-AG, allowing it to serve a wide range of schools across the country.

In the Spring of 2022, the company raised $29.4 in a Series A led by Owl Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, among others.

Felix Ruano and Michael Vilardo were both named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2022.

What is your company’s origin story?

We started Subject (formerly Emile Learning) in October 2020. We’ve had edtech solutions for decades now, but they were not meeting the bar for what students and educators deserved, especially as society was striving to move past COVID-19 setbacks. In the summer of 2021, my co-founder, Michael, and I flew instructors to L.A. to film more than 20 accredited high school classes, including 10 AP courses.

Subject’s mission has been driven by a life-long passion for reducing barriers across our education system. As a Latino-led company, it is important that Subject continues to prioritize featuring diverse, highly-qualified teachers while we expand course access for students around the country. 

How will the market be changed by your company’s success?

Access to education, and consequently the opportunity an education unlocks, is often limited by location or socioeconomic status, learners are restricted by one-size-fits-all courses, and educators and administrators lack the tools needed to make informed decisions. There is a glaring need to address these issues in a way that creates a more equitable distribution of opportunity for everyone.

By simulating the best trends from consumer tech and social media, we’ve redesigned education for this generation of digital natives by making it as engaging as possible. Subject helps expand course offerings and supports teachers that may be stretched thin through grading support and allowing them to focus on individual and small group interactions. We aim for Subject to be the most frictionless, educational platform for teachers, students, and administrators. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began?

The barriers to innovation within education are not always clear. What we’ve learned is that lack of progress is not for lack of interest or conviction – there are countless educators championing innovative initiatives, and they’ve done so for years. More often, the case is that regulatory and policy barriers have not iterated as quickly needed. For our work, in the short term, this means we need to work extra hard to find those champions and collaborate to work within the existing structural barriers. Long term, we need to do our part to push along high-level regulatory and policy discussions if we want to see large-scale innovation. 

What non-intuitive insight have you gained through this work?

When given the educational content, tools, and space, students naturally collaborate to achieve personal and collective goals. 

As a society, we’re still fixated on offering a rigid day-by-day structure to classroom management, but we’ve seen through our work that this undersells a student’s curiosity and motivation for learning.

Felix Ruano

This insight continues to deeply inform our product development.

What other education company besides your own do you wish you had started?

To impact education, I would not start another education company. So many of what drives a student’s learning success stems from factors beyond the academic experience. Adequate food security, housing, mental health, and other fundamental human needs contribute to educational success, so building solutions in those spaces – for the widest set of the population – would be an indirect way to fuel progress in education.

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