The Queen Moves | Emilie Cushman - GRIT ED. 7 Your Next Move - Magazine - Page 28
The Queen Moves | Emilie Cushman
CEO & CO-FOUNDER, KIRA TALENT
Next 36, 2012
The queen is the most powerful piece in the
game of chess, able to move any number of
squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
Having maximum mobility and the highest
value, it’s the piece that all eyes are on.
ince graduating Next 36 in 2012, Emilie launched
her venture Kira Talent, Cushman has been making
headlines ever since. Kira Talent is recognized
across admissions and technology industries globally,
while continuing to reach impressive milestones and
receive many awards. Recently, Cushman was selected
as one of the women founders for the EY Entrepreneurial
Winning Women™ 2021, only days before announcing
she sold a majority stake of Kira Talent to ETS Capital in
“EY winning women on Monday, deal close
Wednesday, announcement went out Thursday and
then on the weekend, I got engaged in Las Vegas, so
it was a fabulous. Week. My mom always says when
it rains, it pours!”
Being recognized as one of the Entrepreneurial Winning
Women™ in 2021 was very special to Cushman as she
was introduced to the award back when she was in the
Next 36 program.
“I remember going to the first Next 36 gala nine
years ago with and just being in awe, looking at
those people on stage thinking, oh my gosh, I could
only dream to get there one day with Kira”
2020 brought unprecedented growth to Kira
Talent, giving Cushman the confidence to finally
apply, bringing her dreams to fruition in the same
week of a significant deal with ETS.
Discussing the remarkable growth Kira had in
2020, an advisor asked if she ever thought about
doing a series B. Cushman immediately rejected
the idea as she had already been down the
fundraising path and was comfortable with the
way things were, calling her own shots, growing
and profiting with no intention of raising money.
“I think I had become comfortable with the, with
the notion that we’re just going to keep doing this
thing for the next 10 years, and that Kira is going to
be profitable and continue to grow.”
In March 2021, things started to pick up, Kira Talent
had more demand than they could support, and
the sound of an influx of capital began to sound
better and better. “With all the demand and a small
team, we couldn’t hire fast enough to kind of keep
up with where Kira needed to be,” said Cushman.
“There was no strategy to raise any sort of money.
This came from people putting their hand up to
say, ‘hey, have you thought of this? You know, we
would love to invest in you under these terms.”
By grouping up with the management team and
plotting out the next five years, Cushman had a
much more concrete sense of, where she wanted
to be and could start thinking about who would
be the right partner to help her achieve their goals.
At the same time, Kira had launched its new live
interview product, which started taking off, thus contributing to their
“I always say this now to entrepreneurs; raise from a position of strength
if you can. Get profitable, figure out your business first, then go out
and raise, because what a difference it is, not being desperate for the
money versus, early on.”
ETS, presented an attractive offer that was
aligned with Kira Talent’s goals, giving everyone
something that they wanted. Investors, the
team, and Cushman herself, all the pieces were
in line. The deal was signed, processed over a
few months and closed in November 2021.
Kira Talent’s video and assessment
platform will be part of ETS’s Global Higher
Education portfolio, advancing the digital
transformation being undertaken to
deliver a seamless, solution
for learners pursuing higher
education and careers, along
with the higher education
institutions and employers
along the way.
There are a number of
in chess, though they tend
to be long and deliberate,
generally, the side of the board
with the queen tends to have
From program participant
to advisor to donor and
now leadership, the future
is bright for this incredible
founder and NEXT alumni.
If I were to go back and speak to
the incoming class, or even just
myself nine years ago, I would set
expectations, and just be like, you
know what, it's gonna be tough,
but it will be so worth it.