Date: December 2018

Early Futures: Shining a Light on Early Childhood Innovation

Steffanie Clothier

Last month, I traveled to San Jose for the Early Futures conference, a first-of-its-kind gathering hosted by Omidyar Network, Sesame Workshop and Promise Venture Studio that brought together nonprofit and for-profit ventures, investors, experts, foundations and early childhood leaders to explore how innovation can help children succeed by providing a strong foundation early in life. In addition to sponsoring the event, GCI participated by leading several sessions on our early childhood innovation strategies

For GCI, the convening reinforced the commitment we made in 2017 to catalyzing early childhood innovation. I was energized by the collaboration happening around the shared purpose of surfacing and supporting breakthrough solutions to the sector’s biggest challenges, and the event’s timing provided an opportunity for the early childhood community to convene in person nearly a year after the launch of our Early Childhood Innovation Prize. Up-and-coming ventures, including many Prize winners and participants, were given a platform to pitch their ideas and provide updates on their progress and funding needs.

Over the course of two days, the GCI team built new relationships, strengthened existing ones and imagined the possibilities for young children together. Here are a few of our team’s most powerful takeaways:

  • There is a lot of new talent focusing on early childhood. As part of our school readiness innovation strategies, GCI has focused on introducing new actors and ideas to the early childhood conversation. Early Futures’ attendee roster and programming showed that diverse thinkers, including technologists, finance professionals, scientists, educators and more, understand the importance of early childhood and are committed to using their skills to carry new ideas forward.

  • Focusing entrepreneurs on critical problems facing the field can drive innovation. With big issues like broken business models and financing challenges, a key place to grow innovation is among entrepreneurs. Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, urged the audience to look to the innovators in the room: “When dealing with large, unsolved problems like in early childhood, you hire entrepreneurs to solve them, not the government or corporations," he said.

  • Technology and efficiency solutions can make a difference. Early childhood is new terrain for technology disruption, but the potential is there to bring substantial benefits. For example, Chelsea Sprayregen, CEO at Pie for Providers, said during her venture presentation that their digital assistant product helps childcare providers increase income left on the table by up to 30 percent, which can then make care more affordable for low-income families.

  • We must remember that early childhood is an equity issue. Any innovations that happen within the field need to be accessible to low-income children and their families, and Joan Lombardi, one of the nation's leading experts on child development and social policy, reminded everyone to continue focusing on public policy, noting that half of the roughly 11,000 children who were born in the U.S. during the conference’s two days could be left behind without an intentional focus on them.

Early Futures proved that Promise Venture Studio, which provides hands-on support, access to resources and targeted programs to early childhood entrepreneurs, is positioned to play a key role in moving solutions in the field forward. As we continue to use innovation strategies to spark new solutions and explore how we can catalyze an innovation ecosystem for children in Colorado, we are excited by the momentum, interest and pipeline of solutions that were on display at Early Futures.

Interested in learning more about our school readiness innovation strategies, including our ecosystem-building efforts? I would love to hear from you!