By Karen Guzman
When Will Sealy ’17 finished his undergraduate studies in 2009, it was the height of the financial crisis, and a weak job market was making the prospect of repaying loans daunting for new graduates. Sealy watched many of his friends struggle.
Eight years later, at the Yale School of Management, he launched a social enterprise startup designed to help students manage the educational loans that he says are still “strangling a generation with back-breaking debt.”
Summer combines technology and policy expertise in an app that guides borrowers through the maze of government-backed loans, so that they can graduate with smart repayment options and a manageable debt.
Sealy, a 2017 recipient of the Yale SOM Morris and Miriam Pozen Entrepreneur Award, co-founded Summer with Paul Joo ’18, a joint-degree graduate of Yale SOM and Yale Law School, along with Vincent Tran, whom they met in New York City. Today, a roster of Yale SOM alumni works for the company, including Chen Fu ’18, Natania Gazek ’17, and Anusha Raturi ’17. After receiving more than $2 million in venture capital funding, Summer has grown to a team of 12.
Student loans, Sealy says, are supposed to make possible an education that will ultimately help students achieve financial security. “But that promise to many of us feels broken,” he says. “The cost of higher education has spiraled. It’s so easy to borrow, but very little thought was put into whether students are set up to succeed.”
Currently 44 million people are repaying $1.5 trillion in college debt, with three in four undergraduates finishing college with an average of $30,000 in loans, Sealy says.
Between his undergraduate and graduate studies, Sealy spent several years working on this issue in Washington, D.C. As an assistant to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sealy helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2011 and was one of the first policy experts to establish the student loan team at the new agency. Realizing the potential impact that tackling the student loan problem from a different angle could have, Sealy left the CFPB in 2015 to attend Yale SOM.
“I really wanted to create a new type of financial service for a generation in debt—one that adequately meets people’s needs. Yale was filled with brilliant people who could help me turn my vision into a reality,” he says.
Sealy created his business plan during his last semester at Yale in an entrepreneurship course with the help of Jennifer McFadden, associate director of entrepreneurship and lecturer in the practice of management. “I graduated, and the following week we opened our office in midtown Manhattan with seven teammates,” he says.
The student loan process is rife with jargon and byzantine repayment plans that many students find difficult to navigate, says Joo. Tackling this complicated process “is something technology greatly improves upon since our algorithm can identify the best repayment plans for each user and eventually scale to reach millions of people.”
Summer programmers took nearly 2,000 pages of higher education policy—detailing a dozen governmental repayment options—and captured them in code. “It’s similar to filing your taxes,” Joo says. “We’re essentially building a TurboTax product for student loans.”
Their unique solution is quickly catching on. Tufts University recently joined Yale in partnering with Summer, and Columbia Business School ran a pilot with its 2018 graduates. The company is now building out a dashboard that will let 6,000 users and email subscribers track loans from multiple lenders.
Summer partners with colleges and universities—in fact, Yale was its first partner—to offer students an easy-to-use app, as well as loan counseling if schools want to bring Summer tutors to campus for an extra fee. Schools make the app available to students free of charge. The company is also looking to partner with employers to offer their product as a workplace benefit.
The company has also positioned itself as a thought leader in the space. The New York Times recently called Summer for guidance for an article regarding loan repayment strategies for recent grads, and Catharine Bond Hill, Yale’s senior trustee and a noted economist focused on higher education affordability, recently co-authored an op-ed with Sealy about addressing the mounting student loan crisis.
“There is a real need for what we’re building,” Sealy says. “Before people can grow their wealth, they have to be able to pay off debt. That’s where we come in.”