The Early Childhood Innovation Prize

$1 million for innovative solutions for our youngest children
An initiative of

How might we maximize every child’s potential during their first three years of life?

Learn More

The first few years of a child’s life lay the foundation for future success.

This is a period of rapid development when more than a million new neural connections are formed every second. As young children are busy trying to understand who they are and how the world works, they are influenced by many factors, including relationships with parents and caregivers, experiences at home or in child care and the influences of the community in which they grow up. It’s these earliest moments that matter most.

But too many young children are not reaching their full potential because existing approaches to early learning and development are not sufficiently addressing today’s challenges. Learn more about the Prize design and topic.

Knowing this, The Early Childhood Innovation Prize is seeking ideas that are novel or more effective, efficient or scalable than current ones.

Process and Timeline

Prize Tiers

Whether you represent a nonprofit or for-profit, are a researcher, entrepreneur, teacher or parent — or have other expertise to offer — we have designed a prize tier with you in mind.

  • New Innovators

    New Innovators with a very early concept in development could receive a share of $100k in funding.

  • Early Stage Innovators

    Early stage innovators with at least one-year prototyping or piloting experience could receive a share of $400k in funding.

  • Advanced Innovators

    Advanced Innovators with 3 to 10+ years of experience could receive a share of $500k in funding.

Everyone can be part of the solution.

We need the brainpower of thinkers from diverse backgrounds who are willing to offer innovative ideas, lend mentorship and expertise, and invest capital to solve this problem together.

Participants could be eligible for:

  • A share of up to $1 million in funding
  • Recognition as one of the most promising early childhood innovation ideas in the country
  • Access to the right mentorship depending on your growth stage
  • Engagement with an ecosystem of innovators, experts and investors
  • An invitation to join the early childhood innovation network

Criteria for Winners

Relevant to Prize Topic

Ideas should demonstrate an understanding of the problem that clearly aligns with one of the Opportunity Areas described in the Prize Brief.


We are looking for new or more effective ways to maximize children’s potential during their first three years of life. Ideas should push the boundaries of what is being done and think beyond current conventional wisdom.

Relevant indicators include:
Idea is aligned with one or more Innovation Targets

Idea should use a new approach or use an existing approach in a different way

Human Centered

Ideas should show evidence of prototyping solutions and incorporating feedback from the children, parents, teachers or others they are designed for.

Relevant indicators include:Idea is collecting feedback from end users in order to solve a real problem for children, 0-3, their parents or supportive providers and systems
Idea shows evidence of prototyping and testing concept, in order to best address the needs of children 0-3 and their families


Is the idea’s execution possible or achievable? Is there a proposed pathway to implementation and validation that the team or organization behind it can lead?

Relevant indicators include: There is a current or prospective team that could advance the idea

The idea demonstrates how it is feasible and viable from a technical and operational perspective*

Beyond funding through this Prize, there are clear pathways to implementation and financial support to build on the idea*

*Only for advanced innovators.

Able to Serve Low-Income Children

While proposed ideas aren’t required to solely focus on low-income children and families, innovators should be able to describe how their solution could eventually impact low-income children, 0-3, and their families.

Relevant indicators include:Accessibility to those with limited resources.


Starting small and local is often an essential need, but participants should describe how their ideas could be applied at scale, geographically as well as operationally. While the purpose of the Prize is not to grow existing solutions, we want to  understand how a successful idea could scale in the future. This consideration will have added emphasis for Early Stage Innovators and Advanced Innovators.

Relevant indicators include:
Potential market size addressed by the solution*
Estimated long-term economic potential of the idea*

Anticipated barriers to scale

*Only for Advanced Innovators

Implementable within the United States

This prize is focused on solutions that can be implemented in the United States. If you are an innovator from another part of the world, we welcome your participation and ask that you address how your solution fits into the early childhood context in the United States.


While we value and understand that participants have limited time, we believe that part of what makes open innovation magical is the connections and ideas that are shared among innovators, experts, people with skills that you need, and investors.  This is why we added collaboration as a bonus indicator in our criteria rubric.

Relevant indicators include:Participants respond to clarifying questions made via comments by the OpenIDEO Community Management team

Participants provide feedback to other participants


To be a top idea, your submission should show the promise of creating deep impact.

Relevant indicators include:Could lead to long-lasting outcomes

Will catalyze positive changes in the lives of children and families

Could lead to wider or systemic positive change

Learn more about the detailed indicators for each prize category.


Once I submit to the Ideas Phase, can I continue to edit my submission?

Yes. We encourage you to submit your idea as early as possible and continue to edit it. The form will be locked and you won’t be able to edit content after  12 p.m. PST on February 15,  2018.

What is the time commitment like?

You can spend as little or as much time as you’d like. If you are looking to spend a minimal amount of time, just fill out the entry form. Or, you can commit more time by learning from other innovators, getting feedback from mentors and continuing to advance your idea. The more you put into the process, the more you can expect to get out of it. Only New Innovators will be scored on participation and collaboration.

Can I submit more than one idea?

Yes. If your organization and/or team is working on a few projects on the topic, please include them.

Are there benefits to submitting an idea in advance of the deadline?

Yes. If you complete your submission by December 22, 2017,  you will be paired with an expert innovator to help improve your  submission. If you add your concept early, you’ll also receive feedback from the OpenIDEO team, peer participants and get more support to make your entry the best it can be, while also learning design thinking in the process.

Are non-US applicants eligible for the Prize

This prize is focused on solutions that can be implemented in the United States. If you are an innovator from another part of the world, we welcome your participation and ask that you address how your solution fits into the early childhood context in the United States.

Do I have to have a legal entity in order to submit an idea?

New Innovators may be individuals or teams of individuals. Early Stage Innovators and Advanced Innovators must be either 501(c)(3) organizations (or have fiscal sponsorship by a 501(c)(3) organization), corporations, partnerships or limited liability companies.

Is the prize money taxable?

Depending on your particular circumstances, prizes may be taxable. Please consult your tax advisor. GCI will comply with all applicable U.S. federal tax rules regarding reporting payment of the prizes.

Who from my team should submit the idea? Should it look like it’s coming from my CEO/ED?

As long as you are authorized to submit an idea on behalf of a team or organization, it doesn't matter who submits it. You can also create a profile for your organization and add team members.

How much information do you want? Should I submit a budget/business plan/usual RFP stuff?

Please answer all the questions in the submission form. At this stage, we are not asking for a business plan or budget. Ideas being considered for funding will be asked for additional materials in March 2018.

How does IP work in an open innovation prize?

All content published is available to the public. If there is sensitive material, please note that and email us at with the title ‘EC Prize - Confidential” Please include a link  to your public submission.  For more information visit our Terms and Conditions.

What is the difference between Promising Ideas and Winners?

Winners are the highest scoring submissions in each category and will be awarded funding. Promising Ideas have received high scores but not high enough to be considered for funding. Promising Ideas will be invited to join the Early Childhood Innovation Network and will continue to receive support via mentorship and opportunities to apply for funding.

How many Winners and Promising Ideas will be chosen?

There is no set number. But we are looking for the best ideas in each category that can benefit from the funding amount available.

What can I do with my prize money?

Prizes awarded to New Innovators will have no restrictions or conditions, although the winners will be encouraged to remain engaged in the innovator network and stay in touch with the prize Sponsor on the development of their ideas.

Early Stage Innovators and Advanced Innovators who are awarded prizes must sign a grant agreement requiring them to, among other things: (i) submit a report one year after receiving funding about their progress toward achieving their proposed innovative solutions, (ii) provide a detailed accounting of how your funds were spent, and (iii) use the funds to further the charitable purposes of the Early Childhood Innovation Prize as approved by GCI. Any portion of the award that is not expended or committed for the charitable purposes authorized by GCI must be returned. Prize funding can/cannot be used as reimbursement for expenses that predate the award.

Who is inelligible to participate in the prize?

The following persons are not eligible to receive awards:

(a) GCI’s current and former full-time employees, officers, and agents,

(b) any members of the immediate families (parent, child, sibling and spouse of each) and those living in the same households as the persons listed in (a),

(c) any members of the immediate families (parent, child, sibling and spouse of each) and those living in the same households as the judges or members of the selection committee, and

(d) individuals who are part of the selection committee.

Download Prize FAQ Here

About Gary Community Investments

Gary Community Investments, which includes The Piton Foundation, invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for Colorado’s low-income children and their families. The Early Childhood Innovation Prize is part of GCI’s multi-million dollar commitment to catalyzing early childhood innovation. While our prize capital will build a pipeline and support the best ideas from around the country, we are ultimately focused on improving the school readiness of children in Colorado. Because of this, we expect our post-prize investments to support solutions that have the greatest potential for positively impacting the lives of Colorado’s young children.

About OpenIDEO

OpenIDEO is IDEO’s open innovation portfolio, empowering people to design solutions to the toughest societal challenges, and working with partners around the world to bring these solutions to life.