Saul Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge

Returning for the first time since 2019, the Innovation Challenge is calling for new ideas that have the potential to advance innovation, enhance equity, and drive transformative change in early education

Why an innovation challenge?

Early education experiences and nurturing relationships serve as the foundation for healthy brain development, future learning, and success later in life. To make good on early education’s potential and promise requires innovation that supports the knowledge, professional learning, policymaking, practice, and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences for all young children. By 2030, the United States will be home to approximately 21 million children under age five. Yet the nation has struggled both to scale early education programs and supports, and to improve and maintain their quality.

Looking ahead, there is a strong foundation on which to advance innovation, enhance equity, and drive transformative change. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more stakeholders are recognizing how early education can support our nation’s economic recovery and societal well-being. States have passed major policy reforms and made historic investments, and advocacy groups have mobilized to keep the needs of our youngest children a priority – especially those who come from historically underserved communities.

Yet at all levels of the system, much work remains to be done, from recruiting, retaining, and supporting the workforce, to finding new ways to promote and measure children’s healthy development, to creating policy solutions that bring more and better early education opportunities to families and communities across America. Now is the time for creative, collaborative solutions that will increase early learning opportunities and drive positive outcomes for all children.

 

What is the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge?

In its fourth year, the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge will fund promising ideas that have the potential to transform early education. We are seeking ideas and approaches that promote positive outcomes at multiple levels of the early education system, including the home, classroom, programs, networks, and/or policy.

 

Why is the Zaentz Initiative hosting this Challenge?

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative seeks to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of early education. By hosting the Innovation Challenge, our goal is to seed the field of early education with new ideas, fresh thinking, and strategic approaches.

Tracks

  • The Envision Track is for applicants who have an idea and are seeking to try it out in the real world.
  • The Accelerate Track is for applicants who have already tried out their idea and are seeking to evaluate it, refine it, and/or expand its reach.
Congratulations to our 2019 Innovation Challenge winners!
Congratulations to our 2019 Innovation Challenge winners!
Congratulations to our 2019 Innovation Challenge winners!

Challenge Timeline + Application

  • Online Application Launch
    Date: 09/20/22
  • Informational Webinar (5 PM ET)
    Date: 10/26/22
  • Online Application Deadline (11:59 PM ET)
    Date: 01/13/23
  • Finalists Notified
    Date: 03/13/23
  • On-Campus Pitch Event
    Date: 04/27/23
Judging Criteria

As reflected in the application questions, solutions will be judged on the quality of the idea; your understanding of the problem and context (i.e., population served, etc.); alignment of the solution to the problem and context; and feasibility and intended impact.

Pitch Details

Once finalists are selected, they will be invited to present their solutions to a panel of expert judges and a live audience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Each team will have approximately three minutes to pitch its proposal to a panel of judges and an audience, followed by three minutes of questions from the judges. Up to two members of each team may make the pitch.

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative is a long-term, multifaceted 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 members Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones, envisions a nation where all early education leaders have the knowledge and strategies they need to create 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.

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative seeks to connect innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of early education. We want to use this Challenge to seed the field with fresh thinking and strategic approaches that drive sustainable, transformative change.

We encourage anyone or any organization with an idea, prototype, product, and/or service to apply. Applicants may be individuals or teams of up to five; teams may represent more than one organization. All applicants must be at least 18 years of age at the time of entry.

Yes.

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.

No. Applicants from any organization or institution are welcome to apply. Zaentz affiliates are not eligible to apply.

Yes! We encourage you to enter the Envision Track, which is intended to attract applicants with new ideas that haven’t been put into action yet.

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

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 credit! Plagiarism will result in immediate disqualification.

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.

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. Challenge organizers cannot guarantee the confidentiality of any materials submitted to the Challenge; neither the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge team nor its associated institutions will sign confidentiality agreements.

September 20, 2022: Applications open; January 13, 2023 (11:59PM EST): Application submission deadline; March 13, 2023: Finalists notified; April 27, 2023: Finalist pitches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Envision Track: 1st Place, $10,000; 2nd Place, $5,000; Audience Choice, $1,000 Accelerate Track: 1st Place, $15,000; 2nd Place, $10,000; Audience Choice, $5,000

Please list all team members and their organizational affiliation (for example, school district, corporation, or state agency), if any. Teams will need a designated a point person for any communications if the application is selected as a finalist.

We encourage creative thinking, and we look forward to being surprised by new ideas and concepts! The proposed solutions can take different forms and may target short-term and long-term change at multiple levels of the early education system, including the home, classroom, programs, networks, and/or policy, though all proposals should have the potential to be scaled to drive systems-level impact. Examples of solution themes include but are not limited to: • Workforce development • Professional communities of practice • Planning and instruction • Authentic assessment • Program or classroom environment and materials • Trauma-informed practice • Parent and family engagement • Community engagement and wraparound services • Outdoor learning environments • Mental health supports • Public-private partnerships • Other: Be creative!

No, we are open to all types of solutions.

We define “early education” as learning and development experiences for young children from birth to age five.

Yes, we welcome submissions that are for profit, nonprofit, or even undetermined (for those just beginning with new ideas) endeavors.

We will hold an informational webinar on October 26, 2022, at 5 PM ET. You can register for that event here: https://bit.ly/3BtOi8K A recording of the webinar will also be available on our website.

We anticipate four to six finalists in each track.

Yes, once we have selected the finalists, they will be listed on our website.

Funding recipients will be announced by our panel of judges at the pitch event.

Finalists are responsible for travel expenses to attend the pitch event at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. However, teams located outside the greater Boston area can apply for up to $1,000 to offset travel expenses.

2021 Family Child Care Innovation Networks Awardees

2019 Winners & Finalists

Idea Track Winners

1st Place:
Strong Families, Mighty South Ward Loyalty Program
An innovative loyalty program designed to motivate and reward Newark families for continual use of the high-quality two-generation resources in their community.

Participants: Jasmine Spencer, Ashanti Jones, Fady Ibrahim

2nd Place:
2Gen Includes Men: Supporting Baltimore City Children and Their Fathers Through the Power of Play
A two-generation program at Baltimore’s Port Discovery Children’s Museum that actively engages low-income fathers and their young children through regular and ongoing playful learning experiences, including monthly father-child parenting and play workshops, events, and activities.

Participant: Patricia Hoge

3rd Place:
Flourish in Frazer Forest
Bringing inclusive early learning experiences outdoors through a project-based forest learning curriculum.

Participants: Susie Riddick, Tonja Holder

3rd Place:
SmartShift: Early Learning Centralized Float Pool Application
A first-to-market digital staffing application designed to build short-term and part-time workforce capacity while also offering unusual suspects the chance to enter the early childhood education field.

Participants: Maureen Weber, Brittany Krier

Pilot Track Winners

1st Place:
The QuickCheck®
A simple tech tool that breaks down teacher professional learning curricula into manageable strategies, helping teachers build their skills and become fluent in effective classroom practices.

Participant: Sheetal Singh

2nd Place:
Building the Muscle: Arts Integration Professional Learning for Early Educators
Giving early childhood educators the tools and confidence to support children’s learning through the arts.

Participants: Abby Crawford, Crystal Cauley

3rd Place:
Telepractice Services for Communication Disorders at West Liberty University
Creating a telehealth suite within a university clinic setting to ensure children and families across rural West Virginia have access to high-quality speech, language and hearing services.

Participants: Stephanie Bradley, Tori Gilbert

Scaling Track Winners

1st Place:
FASTalk
An evidence-based tool that helps teachers engage diverse families and improve student outcomes through curriculum-aligned text messages delivered in families’ home languages and two-way parent-teacher messaging with automated translation. (California)

Participants: Vidya Sundaram, Elisabeth O’Bryon

2nd Place:
Shared Services for Providers
A “partnership, not product” approach designed to help child care providers efficiently manage their business and improve quality for the children and families in their care.

Participants: Judy Williams, Michael Taylor

3rd Place:
Connected for Success
Creating a unified statewide framework in Mississippi to improve care and access to services for both children and their families across the state’s mixed delivery system.

Participants: Micca Knox, Katerina Sergi

Idea Track Finalists

Early Learning Centralized Float Pool Application
A first-to-market digital staffing application designed to build short-term and part-time workforce capacity while also offering unusual suspects the chance to enter the early childhood education field. (Indiana)

Participants: Maureen Weber, Brittany Krier

ToyLend: A Library for Play
A community-based library of playthings that supports children’s healthy development through play. (New York)

Participant: Lauren Berman

Pilot Track Finalists

Creating a Deliberately Developmental School Culture
Using research-based tools, interactive retreats, and one-on-one coaching to help early education leaders build a deliberately developmental school culture that supports teacher growth and results in higher quality programs for children. (Massachusetts)

Participant: Susan MacDonald

SayKid
A screen-less, play-based learning tool that uses voice technology in the form of a plush robot to help kids learn in a safe, natural, and engaging way. (Minnesota)

Participants: DeLonn Crosby, Scott Schanke

Scaling Track Finalists

Healthy Apple Program
Pairing early educators with peer mentors to coach them on best practices for nutrition and physical activity, empowering educators to promote and establish lifelong healthy habits for all children in their care. (California)

Participant: Mona Malan

We Care for Dane Kids
A set of four interdependent, innovative strategies to transform the child care system by increasing the supply of child care, maximizing funding to pay for care, and creating efficiencies of scale for child care programs through a shared services network. (Wisconsin)

Participants: Ruth Schmidt, Katherine Magnuson

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