Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative?

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative is a long-term, multi-faceted project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) that promotes the knowledge, professional learning, and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences. The Zaentz Initiative, co-directed by HGSE faculty Drs. Stephanie Jones and Nonie Lesaux, envisions a nation where all early education leaders have the knowledge and strategies they need to provide children and their colleagues with strong, supportive learning environments. The Initiative consists of three core components: (1) the Early Learning Study at Harvard, a population-based study seeking to understand what works in a diverse range of early childhood settings; (2) a Professional Learning Academy to support the development of early education leaders from across our mixed-delivery system, and (3) a Fellows Program to build a new pipeline of leaders in the field.

Why is the Zaentz Initiative hosting this Challenge?

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative seeks to connect innovators and entrepreneurs and seed the field of early education and care with fresh thinking and strategic approaches that drive sustainable, transformative change.

What is the timeline for the Challenge?

May 22nd, 2019 - Online application launched 

August 2, 2019 (9:00 AM EST)- Optional informational webinar

August 30th, 2019 (11:59 PM EST) -  Online application deadline 

September 2019 - Finalists announced 

October 15, 2019 - Finalist pitches at HGSE

Who can apply?

We encourage anyone or any organization with an idea, prototype, product and/or service to apply. Applicants can include individuals or teams of up to five from more than one organization. We do not have any preference for the type of applicant or proposal.

Can individuals apply without being part of a team?

Yes, the Challenge is open to both individuals and teams (made up of no more than five individuals). All applicants must be at least 18 years of age at the time of entry.

Do I need to list all members of my team?

If your group includes people from multiple organizations, please list everyone in the application. If you are applying as part of a single entity or organization (e.g., a school district, corporation, state agency), please note that in the contact information and include only one point-person.

Do I need to be affiliated with HGSE or Harvard to enter?

No! Applicants from all backgrounds and organizations are welcome to apply, and you do not need to be affiliated with HGSE or Harvard. The ideal Challenge applicant has some knowledge of and/or experience in early education and is eager to think beyond traditional systems and solutions.

What types of ideas or approaches are you looking for?

We anticipate that many proposals will focus on new organizations or initiatives, new school or program models, new curricula or assessments, and new tech tools, but we encourage creative thinking and we look forward to being surprised by new ideas and concepts!

In addition to taking different forms, Challenge submissions may target short-term and long-term change at multiple levels of the early education system, including the home, classroom, program and networks, and/or policy, but all proposals should have the potential to be scaled to have a system-level impact in the future. We have provided several possible solution themes, including (but not limited to):

  • Workforce development
  • Professional communities of practice
  • Planning and instruction
  • Authentic assessment
  • Classroom environment and materials
  • Trauma-informed practice
  • Parent and family engagement
  • Community engagement and wraparound services
  • Other: Think outside the box!

How does the Zaentz Initiative define “early education”?

We generally define “early education” as ranging from birth to age five, but we are open to different interpretations of the term.

What is the difference between the tracks?

  • The Idea Track is designed for applicants who have formulated an idea but have not yet built, tested, formally incorporated, or raised funding for their concept. 
  • The Pilot Track is designed ffor applicants who have developed and released a prototype. This track is intended for individuals or teams who have raised less than $50,000 for their proposed solution at the time of entry, including all revenue, donations, and/or investments.
  • The Scaling Track is for applicants who have launched their product or service and are seeking funding to refine their product to scale it.

Is it OK if my idea is very early stage and I haven't tried it?

Yes! We encourage you to enter the Idea Track, which is intended for applicants who have completely new ideas that they haven’t put into action yet. So long as you have identified a clear problem in the field of early education, a set of users affected by this problem, and an idea that is supported by early childhood research/science, you are good to go!

Can I submit multiple proposals to a single track?

Absolutely. However, you can only submit each unique proposal once. We will not consider the same proposal submitted to multiple tracks.

Does my idea need to be completely new or original?

It is fine to submit an idea or approach developed and/or submitted elsewhere. However, we require that you include citations for any research or other sources used in your submission. If you reference someone else’s thinking, be sure to give that person credit! Plagiarism will result in immediate disqualification.

Does my proposed solution need to be a non-profit?

No, we welcome submissions that are non-profit, for-profit, or even undetermined (for those just beginning with new ideas). You should include details about funding under “The Future” section of your online application, where it asks how you plan to grow and sustain your venture.

Will you provide any resources to prep our application & pitch?

Watch our webinar on Friday, August 2, 2019 at 9:00 AM EST to learn more about submitting your ideas to the Challenge.

How many finalists will there be in each track?

We anticipate approximately five finalists in each track.

Will finalist proposals be posted online?

Yes, once finalists have been selected, a summary of their proposal will be available on the website.

Who is responsible for expenses to attend the finalist pitches?

Finalists are responsible for travel expenses to attend the finalist pitches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Will I forfeit my IP rights for my idea if I apply?

No, ownership of any intellectual property submitted as part of the Challenge will remain with the original owners (applicants). However, the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative may use any submitted materials for future academic research. Contestants should not disclose any information that is proprietary or confidential, and neither the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge team nor its associated institutions will sign confidentiality agreements. Additionally, Challenge organizers cannot guarantee confidentiality of any materials submitted to the Challenge.

Who will judge our proposed solutions and on what criteria?

Finalist will be selected based on quality, relevance, and design of their idea, concept, or approach. Finalists will then present their proposals to a panel of expert judges and a live audience during the final pitch ceremony. Final pitches should include information about the problem, solution, and future of the idea or approach. Finalists should keep in mind the values of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative: Aspiration, Equity, Scientific Integrity, Connectivity, and Communication.

When will funding recipients be announced?

Funding recipients will be decided and announced by our panel of judges at the finalist pitches.

Are there requirements or timelines for funding recipients?

There are no requirements or timelines for implementation after finalists receive funding. This Challenge is not an incubator or accelerator program.


The Challenge 

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View the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge finalist pitches here.

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