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Sorenson Impact and Eccles School of Business Launch First Early Childhood Innovation Lab

"Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, one teacher can change the world."* 

Executive leaders of early childhood education programs are in the same league of world-changers. But it can be tough juggling myriad of program challenges such as funding, access, quality, staffing, compliance, and changing community needs.
To overcome increasing pressure to diversify revenue streams and innovate their models to address complex community and client needs, early childhood educators from around the country came to Salt Lake City for the inaugural Early Childhood Innovation Lab (ECIL) launched by the Sorenson Impact Center and the Eccles School of Business Executive Education program, in collaboration with the National Head Start Association.

Collaboration for innovation

The first cohort of Sorenson Innovation Fellows — a distinguished group of early childhood professionals from more than 10 U.S. states — attended the week-long Lab on the University of Utah campus. Designed to incite an entrepreneurial mindset shift, the Lab equips participants with tools to create and pursue innovative strategies and financing. The Lab was grounded in the importance of using data and employing impact measurement to improve practice and demonstrate positive change. 

Training for the front line

Prepared with pre-seminar readings and exercises, the participants arrived ready to address their identified organizational challenge and to garner new knowledge to create an impact plan. Through four intense days of classes on entrepreneurism, impact measurement, strategic leadership, social innovation, and other topics, participants tackled their organizational challenge head-on. Taught by Eccles Business School faculty and Sorenson Impact researchers and professional staff, the Lab’s curriculum included case study work and tours of innovative organizations. 

In a session on the entrepreneurial mindset, Kathy Hajeb, Director of Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, led an engaging innovation tournament with the participants. The participants said they "enjoyed the activity; it’s something I will do with my team.” Participants said the Lab was an opportunity to escape the day-to-day grind and have an intellectually stimulating space to think strategically and innovatively with a community of like-minded professionals.

Tying it together

In the culminating event of the Lab, participants presented their “Impact Plans” to an expert feedback panel and to their cohort-mates. One Innovation Fellow shared a particularly poignant mind shift — she came into the program interested in STEM-focused early childhood education but quickly realized this approach was not solving a pressing problem. Instead, she created a robust and data-driven plan for a holistic, wrap-around service center for heroin users and their children age 0-5, which would be funded in partnership with a private hospital already engaged in solving the opioid epidemic in the community. Other participants pitched compelling plans that focused on topics such as increasing access and improving high-quality pre-K for children of migrant workers. Many of the Innovation Fellows hope to implement their impact plans upon returning to their organizations. 

But it doesn't end there

The Lab strategically employed a cohort-based learning model to foster an ongoing community of innovative early childhood educators. The cohort model will continue beyond the Lab and will engage a continuous online learning community that will include an ongoing public forum to share ideas and resources. The cohort will also receive continuing technical assistance on impact measurement and how to effectively communicate impact for participants from the Sorenson Impact Center. 

The Sorenson Impact Center and the Eccles School of Business Executive Education program will offer two more Early Childhood Innovation Labs in the spring and fall of 2018. The Sorenson Impact Center is excited to grow the cohort of Sorenson Innovation Fellows to a community of nearly 100 early childhood leaders in 2018. 

For more information, contact: Courtney McBeth at

*(Malala Yousafzai; female education activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate)