A Slice on Jaime Martinez, Founder of Schola
Jaime Martinez’s career in finance and marketing took a turn when he joined Teach for America in 2010-2012. He was hoping to emulate the “impactful teacher from high school” he once had, until he witnessed deep-rooted issues in the current education system. He quickly learned schools were financially incentivized to keep students, rather than have their best interest at heart. As a new father, Martinez saw an opportunity to make a change and began working on Schola. From 6th grade teacher to CEO, Martinez brought Schola to life in 2015.
Schola is an educational software company that creates innovative solutions for students and schools. Striving to revolutionize the enrollment and retention process, Schola matches students to schools based on learning and teaching styles, curriculum, facilities and more. To date, Martinez has grown Schola’s team of 4-5 employees to 44 and is helping 300 parents per week. Schola will enter its series A round this year.
During Martinez’s time at Teach for America, he learned there were two directives in teaching: teach the state standards or differentiate based on the students’ abilities. Armed with this information and emboldened to help, Martinez started sending his students to other schools on the “down-low”, disregarding backlash from his principal. “They said, ‘What the heck are you doing, please stop sending money away.’ I was thinking about my little one-year-old who was about to go into this system that was financially incentivized to keep students, even though they could be better served somewhere else. That was just crazy to me.” Martinez continued to send his students to other schools until he joined a charter school organization as a school leader. As his success grew, he made a name for himself as a top-tier marketing director in Arizona.
Following his success, an Atlanta-based organization, National Consultancy for Schools, approached him with a recruitment and enrollment position for district, charter and private schools across the country. “I went off and started helping schools all over the place. That’s really where I got to see the magnitude of the problem, that it’s not just an Arizona thing. Schools all over the country are dealing with this enrollment issue.”
The disparity he saw years ago with Teach for America was becoming even clearer. Families from all over the U.S. turned to Martinez seeking guidance and asking if their children were truly in the right schools. It was conversations like these that fueled the fire for Schola. “You can’t teach people state standards if they don’t know how to read. So, what was logical for me was looking out for their best interest and helping students find schools that were a better fit for them, based on their interest, ability level and a combination of other factors.”
Martinez followed a not-so-traditional path while fundraising and found himself in debt to the tune of $400,000. “My wife would look at me and say, ‘If you think you can make this happen, go for it. You just can’t touch the house. Everything else, don’t worry, it’s free game.’ I took that very seriously. The whole time I knew there was a market out there. I knew we just needed to show it and get that traction.”
Admittedly, after fundraising “all wrong”, the tides began to change for Martinez. Making slow, progressive steps, in roughly four years he was able to raise Schola’s first seed round. The startup world was just a game to Martinez that he had to learn the rules of, and then go play.
“I think once you understand what game you’re playing, it’s easy to follow the rules and hit those milestones. It’s just knowing what milestones are really important to you and sticking to what you believe in. I’ve never done this for money, as long as you believe in what you’re doing, that can carry you… if you hesitate at all, you’re done.”
Though Martinez had experimented on various ideas in the past, he couldn’t have predicted what would happen next: COVID-19. With the nation moving virtual, this paved a smooth path for Schola to accelerate its growth. When Martinez looks ahead to the future, he sees Schola decentralizing the education system as a whole, by matching students to teachers. He believes his ultimate success will be measured by how many families and individuals receive education, enabling them the opportunity to define their own success.