Laurel Taylor, EMBA ’15, was an A student in high school, but the most competitive universities were out of reach for her financially. Nearly two decades later, she is determined to make paying for college easier for future generations.
“The American dream has become an American nightmare for many,” Taylor said, noting that roughly 70 percent of college undergraduates borrow money to pay for their education and, according to the One Wisconsin Institute survey of approximately 67,000 respondents, it takes an average of 20 years for students to pay off those loans. The Institute for College Access & Success cites that students who graduated in 2014 carried an average debt of $28,950.
In response, Taylor founded FutureFuel.io, an online marketplace that enrolls employers offering debt-relief benefits and matches them with scarce talent—the young professionals and students they need to fill jobs in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), as well as management.
“We are working with fundamental economics. There is massive demand for STEM talent, and an impressive shortfall of available human capital, which creates an exciting opportunity for the talent side of the marketplace to express their voice as to what compensation matters most when considering for whom they will work,” Taylor said, noting that in computer science alone, there are 1 million more openings than there are qualified applicants.
While many companies attract young people with free meals and foosball, Taylor believes many employees would prioritize debt repayment over other perks, and would welcome the idea of a “new normal in compensation.”
“The reality of paying $500-plus per month, every month, for years, is extremely painful,” she said. “Student debt has significant associated financial impact as indebted students save less, buy homes later, and are less prepared for retirement.”
FutureFuel works by connecting employers with tech-savvy talent via a media-rich, mobile-accessible platform. “Think of it as a career fair that’s open 24/7,” Taylor said. Every employer on FutureFuel offers debt repayment on top of existing compensation practices. The program is free for students and users.
“This whole marketplace is about system dynamics,” said Taylor, crediting MIT with giving her the skills—including multi-stakeholder system analysis—needed to establish FutureFuel. The startup recently finalized a seven-figure seed round of funding and begins its soft launch this summer.
Taylor attended MIT Sloan School of Management’s seven-day Entrepreneurship Development Program and then enrolled in the MIT Executive MBA program. “MIT taught me to really think about large-scale impact, and then have the courage to pursue it. Mind. Heart. And hand.” she said.
Taylor has also taken her ideas beyond her startup. She is arranging a meeting this fall between White House officials and industry representatives to discuss a potential policy change that would enable 100 percent of dollars applied to student loans to be pre-tax dollars, similar to 401(k) plans.
MIT students and alumni can participate in the invitation-only soft launch via the iOS app or website.