For This Entrepreneur, Helping Kids Go To College is Personal

Gary Rubens grew up on the Olympic Peninsula in the Seattle area, and went on to launch a home furnishing and fixtures e-commerce website that was acquired by home improvement giant Lowe’s in 2011. Since the big acquisition, Rubens has become a prolific angel investor. In 2012, he also started a family foundation called the Rubens Family Foundation with his wife Jennifer. 

The couple recently came to our attention when we were digging into a big gift by billionaire Steve Ballmer to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, aimed at helping in-need students get a degree in a STEM or health care-related field. Rubens and Jennifer also gave big to that scholarship program, to the tune of $20 million. 

Related: In a Gift for STEM Scholarships, More Hints Where a Tech Philanthropist May Be Headed

But this isn't the only scholarship-related gift by the couple. In fact, in its short history, the Rubens Family Foundation has prioritized helping in-need kids get to college, and these efforts are fueled by the kind of personal motivations that we often talk about at Inside Philanthropy. 

Rubens grew up poor in the Seattle area, where his family struggled to make ends meet. As Rubens puts it: "We got food from the food bank and at some points, we were living off food stamps." Rubens held a full-time job in high school and was accepted to Washington State University. However, he decided against going, as the cost would have sent his parents into debt. 

Armed with only a high school degree, Rubens has achieved tremendous success. He still notes, though, that his story is exceptional: “I don’t think I’m a good example of what happens to people when they don’t go to college."

The Rubens Family Foundation states on its website that it was "created out of a passion to provide college scholarships for underprivileged students and to support no-cost adoptions for foster children." Since 2013, the foundation has granted over $26 million.

Apart from the couple's large gift to Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, the couple has also supported scholarships through College Success Foundation, giving $4.5 million in grants since the start of 2013 for 180 four-year scholarships to underprivileged and low-income students. Money has also gone to Ranier Scholars, with $200,000 going to the Ranier Scholars 11-year program, providing "enriched academic support for children of adversity."

Another STEM-related effort supported by the couple is by the TAF Technology Access Foundation. TAF Academy is a STEM-focused school. Funds have also gone to Summer Search, which "supports students short on opportunity and provides professional mentoring," Youth Eastside Services, Antioch Adoptions, which provides no-cost adoptions, Assistance League, Friends of the Children, Seattle Children's Hospital and the Strong Against Cancer initiative.

Rubens is one to watch, particularly for those working in Seattle and Washington State.

Related: Gary Rubens Profile