49. Guild Education

Persephone Kavallines

Founders: Rachel Carlson (CEO), Brittany Stich
Launched: 2015
Headquarters: Denver
$228.5 million
Valuation: $1 billion
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 1 (No. 45 in 2020)

Prior to the pandemic, start-ups typically flocked to Silicon Valley to cozy up to venture investors and tap into local tech talent. But Guild Education, which was founded in 2015 at Stanford University, left San Francisco before "leaving San Francisco" was cool. That's because its founders realized the cost of living and hiring there could hamper the company's growth.

The Denver-based edtech company, which is also a certified B corporation, helps Fortune 500 companies such as Chipotle, DisneyWalmart, Taco Bell and Lowe's offer debt-free degrees to their employees. Co-founder and CEO Rachel Carlson has called her firm's model, which offers a tech platform supporting a network of nonprofit and public universities, "education as a benefit." It offers debt-free tuition for employees so they can get the education and pick up the skills they'll need for in-demand jobs. On Guild's platform, users can enroll in programs from high school to trades, associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees.

Primarily, Guild helps large employers extend education benefits, including tuition reimbursement and tuition assistance, to workers who have dropped out. According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), only around 13% of college dropouts go back to school in the next five years. What's worse, out of all of those who re-enroll, roughly half eventually obtain a degree.

Rather than looking at a college degree as a passport to a job, Guild says its mission is to help 88 million working Americans to learn professional skills needed for the future, and currently offers 3 million workers at major employers access to its platform. Through the educational platform, the companies retain great workers and make sure that they're "upskilling," or preparing to take on new roles and responsibilities. Guild has partnerships with eCornell, University of Florida, Southern New Hampshire University and Purdue Global University, among others. In September, the company added Paul Quinn College, its first HBCU, to its roster of college and university partners.

The company's platform guides workers to online courses provided by accredited institutions of higher education, and does not work with for-profit, online colleges that have a dubious track record. The courses are usually flexible, and don't require a student to leave during the workday to complete a lesson or take an exam.

Guild measures how well students are doing in terms of course completion, with advisers nudging and cheering students if they're falling behind, or suggesting tweaks and techniques that can help them complete a desired course, degree or other credentials.

Some of the most popular courses and degrees completed via Guild are around English as a second language, business writing, administration, human resources, management and nursing. Investors include General Catalyst, Iconiq, Salesforce Ventures and Stephen Curry's firm SC30.

Contributed by Riley de León

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