The Early Childhood Innovation Lab

"Empowering Early Childhood Education Leaders to Create Sustainable Solutions."

Immerse. Unite. Solve.


The Early Childhood Innovation Lab is a one-week, on-site executive lab that aims to educate, explore, and disseminate innovative practices for early childhood education service providers. This lab is designed by the Sorenson Impact Center, and the David Eccles School of Business.



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June 4–9, 2018  •  $3,000



Ronald F. Ferguson, PhD
Faculty Director, the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University


Ron Ferguson is an MIT-trained economist who joined the faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1983 and for the next two decades focused most of his attention on state and local economic development. However, even by the late 1980s, he had begun work on education and youth development, because shifts in labor market skill requirements combined with racial and ethnic achievement gaps were causing growing wage disparity. Ron is a faculty associate at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and faculty director of the Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University. In 2014, he co-founded Tripod Education Partners which provides survey research support to public school systems and shifted into an adjunct role at the Kennedy School. He consults widely and is a member of several national research and policy networks, committees, and commissions. Ron is also the creator the Boston Basics campaign, which responds to the fact that cognitive gaps between racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are notable by the age of two. The campaign reaches infant and toddler caregivers through partnerships in a number of cities around the US and abroad. He holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a PhD from MIT, both in economics. He has been happily married for 39 years and is the father of two adult sons.



The Early Childhood Innovation Lab (ECIL) represents a unique opportunity for intensive skill building and collaboration with leading experts and practitioners in the Early Childhood Space. We understand that there are major contextual barriers to innovation in Early Childhood Education, particularly given the complex funding and regulatory environments in which it exists. Taking this complexity into account, we have customized a context-specific curriculum tailored to Early Childhood Education. We’ve curated and developed high quality learning materials and have assembled an impressive roster of ECE thought leaders and innovators who are uniquely positioned to bolster our efforts. 

Designed for:

  • Early Childhood Funders
  • School Administrators
  • Government Early Childhood Leadership/ Agency Representatives
  • Elected Officials
  • Community Champions for Early Education


You may be asking, what am I going to get out of this? In short, a great deal. The core objectives of the Early Childhood Innovation Lab and their corresponding activities/deliverables include: 

Familiarization with the core competencies necessary for innovation (e.g., idea generation, data and impact measurement, pitch delivery/messaging, negotiations, budgeting, philanthropic landscape)
  • Why it’s important: In order to convert innovative ideas into launched projects in the Early Childhood Education context, leaders must be able to identify the need on a granular level, generate a solution, build a coalition of stakeholders in support of that solution, and ultimately implement and sustain that solution.   
Exposure to several live case studies of innovation in the Education space
  • Why it’s important: Learning from others' successes and failures can provide powerful guidance to leaders in Early Childhood Education. Understanding the journey of successful social entrepreneurs and innovators is an essential step to becoming one. 
Opportunities to network with other Early Childhood Professionals
  • Why it’s important: It helps to know that you aren’t alone on this journey. Others will be carrying out their own innovations, and all will benefit from the existence of a robust and ongoing community of support. From this group, we hope you will glean wisdom and derive innovative energy! You will be part of a curated cohort and the Innovation Fellows network is growing. 
Access to renowned experts in Early Childhood Education as well as strategy and innovation
  • Why it’s important: As you complete the curriculum (and corresponding capstone project), you’ll receive guidance and support from experts in the fields relevant to your work. You’ll receive feedback through multiple prisms and will be able to internalize and iterate based on that feedback. You will have a national support group to lean on.
Completion of a capstone project that incorporates the week’s learnings into an actionable plan unique to your community context
  • Why it’s important: By the end of the week, you’ll have a concrete deliverable to present to your organization and community, something that can serve as a starting point to a high-impact effort in Early Childhood Education. 


This cohort model creates a supportive network of like-minded colleagues for dynamic learning at the University of Utah campus and beyond through the Early Childhood Innovation Lab's Fellows network. The model includes: (1) pre-lab work; (2) 6-day lab at the U filled with workshops, lectures, site visits, and case studies facilitated by leading experts in the social impact space; and (3) post-lab support.


Pre-Lab Work: Identifying Your Organization's Challenges 

Early childhood leaders are provided pre-reading and goal exercises to prepare for the lab. They are also equipped with the tools needed to meet with their teams to identify their organization's most pressing challenges and obtain buy-in from colleagues and stakeholders to ensure implementation and sustainability of their social impact plan (pre-lab work provided one month prior).


Lab Work: Designing Your Social Impact Plan

During the lab, early childhood leaders will learn various approaches and gain tools to create an innovative organizational impact plan. By the end of the lab, they will design and deliver a pitch and receive feedback from an expert panel to improve upon the plan design and implementation approach (6 full days at University of Utah).


Post-Lab Work: Drawing on a Continuum of Support

Early childhood leaders will apply knowledge gained during the lab and receive ongoing mentorship and technical assistance, provided by the Sorenson Impact Center, to break through roadblocks and generate sustainable solutions to their identified organizational challenge (2 months of ongoing support).



Why Register?


This lab empowers early childhood leaders to escape their daily distractions, refocus on their core strategic mission, and learn cutting-edge strategies. 


Collectively tackle early childhood education challenges with other passionate leaders from across the nation. Graduates will receive a certification, an Innovation Fellow distinction, and join a distinguished network of innovators driving real impact. 


Shift to a more entrepreneurial mindset to tap into diverse funding streams, powerfully integrate data and outcomes-driven approaches, and effectively communicate your organization's impact. Create an evolving social impact plan to chart the path for your organization's success. 



Watch the video above to hear from Sorenson Impact nonprofit expert, Fraser Nelson, about why ECIL is the right choice.


The Curriculum


1. Perspective from national funders

2. Cutting edge early childhood research.

3. Leading experts in entrepreneurship and innovation.


Leading experts in the fields of social impact, entrepreneurship, impact measurement, and innovative finance models will deliver content that covers the following topics through case studies, workshops, lectures, and site visits:

  • Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Data science for social good
  • Impact measurement
  • Strategic Leadership
  • Impact-based storytelling 
  • Negotiations
  • Innovative funding models (e.g., new markets, social impact bonds, impact investing, and performance-based contracting).


The Expertise

Access the experts at the David Eccles School of Business and Sorenson Impact Center, a knowledge center with expertise in social innovation, especially at the crossroads of early childhood education policy, data science, impact investing, social impact bonds, and communication.



Fraser Nelson of the Sorenson Impact Center serves as a Managing Director, and is responsible for the Center’s advisory services in Policy and Innovation. Prior to joining Sorenson, she served as the first Director of Data & Innovation for the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office, where she led the successful launch of two Pay for Success initiatives. Fraser was founder & CEO of the Community Foundation of Utah, and grew it from an idea to a national leader in innovative philanthropy. She was also CEO of the State of Utah's Disability Law Center for over a decade. She holds a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. from St. Mary’s University. Read her blog post for more about Utah as an innovation hub.


Courtney McBeth is a Managing Director at Sorenson Impact where she develops curriculum and partnerships for the executive education platform on impact investing, social innovation, and impact measurement. Courtney has developed courses and online curriculum in the areas of social impact, public policy, civic engagement, community-based research, and international development. Courtney is pursuing her doctorate degree in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania and is doing her dissertation research on the emergence and evolution of social impact centers and initiatives within U.S. institutions of higher education. Read her blog post for more about the launch of the first Early Childhood Innovation Lab.


Janis Dubno returned last year to the Sorenson Impact Center from leave on a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education. Previously, she was Director of Early Childhood and Education Policy for the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children. She was also an adjunct professor in the finance department of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College. Janis received an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor’s in Economics and Political Science from Yale College. Hear about her thoughts on evidence-based early-childhood programs here.


Billy Powers of the Sorenson Impact Center, specializes in Early Childhood Education. He is a Pay for Success expert and has worked in public school systems in Colorado and Illinois. Billy received his Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and while teaching, he received his Masters of Science in Education from Dominican University in Illinois. Read about one of his early childhood education projects here.




Kathy Hajeb is a Director at the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. She is responsible for a variety of student innovation and entrepreneurship programs where she challenges students of all ages to match their passion with a purpose. Kathy is an Assistant Professor (Lecturer) at the David Eccles School of business where she teaches courses in innovation and entrepreneurship. The Lassonde Institute hosts statewide business plan competitions, innovation showcases, provides mentoring opportunities, fellowships, startup support, milestone funding, and internships to students who are interested in solving the world’s problems. The Lassonde Studios, a student residence and innovation prototyping and workshop space to support University student inventors will open in 2016. She received both her bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Utah and worked in the natural resource industry prior to joining the University in 2003.

Dr. Harris Sondak is David Eccles Professor of Business and Ethics and Professor of Management at the David Eccles School of Business. Dr. Sondak is Adjunct Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Dr. Sondak's research investigates the psychology of allocation decisions, group process and decisions, procedural justice and ethics, and organizational aesthetics. His research has been published in Business Ethics Quarterly, Group Decision and Negotiation, the Journal of Economic Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Social Justice Research, and other outlets. His teaching includes courses on groups, negotiations, creating and maintaining business relationships, managing conflict in organizations, competitive strategy, managing diversity, organizational behavior, consulting to nonprofits, philosophy of social science, business ethics, culture, and leadership. 

Dr. Trish Gorman is the Managing Director of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center at the David Eccles School of Business, where she also lectures on Strategy. Trish was the Academic Director of the Global Consulting Practicum at Wharton, core executive education faculty at Columbia Business School, inaugural Dean of the Jack Welch Management Institute, Lead Faculty for the McKinsey MiniMBA, and invited lecturer at Duke, London Business School and numerous other academic and corporate universities. She has developed and delivered successful learning programs for IBM, Havas, McKinsey, Statoil, Samsung, John Deere, Novo Nordisk, DirectTV, Nokia, SwissRe, Ford and dozens of other organizations. Recently, Trish served as a Director at Deloitte, leading their U.S. thought leadership on growth. Earlier in her career, she served as McKinsey’s Director of Global Strategy Learning. Trish has published in the McKinsey Quarterly, Harvard Business Review,, and Deloitte Review and co-authored What I Didn’t Learn in Business School with Jay Barney (2010, Harvard Business Press).  




Sorenson Impact Center:
Committed to Empowering our Youngest Citizens


An estimated 3 million of our nation’s youngest children are at risk of not achieving age-appropriate developmental milestones by the age of 3. However, research on high-quality programs and interventions demonstrates that this trajectory can be changed. Due to our commitment to data-driven solutions, the Sorenson Impact Center has been selected to manage the Pritzker Children's Initiative, a partnership organized by the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation between the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, Center for the Study of Social Policy, National Institute for Children's Health Quality and StriveTogether. The purpose of this initiative is to focus on what medical professionals say is a critical time period for brain development in order to increase kindergarten readiness for children from birth to age 3. The project will provide more than $6.5 million during the one-year pilot program with plans to supply more money in the future. The funds will be used to support programs for infants, toddlers, and their families. 

Learn more about the Sorenson Impact Center's key role in the Pritzker Children's Initiative. 

The social innovation work of the Center began in 2014 with funding from the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and the Corporation for National & Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund, the Sorenson Impact Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and the J.B. + M.K. Pritzker Foundation. Since its inception, the Center has studied the feasibility of scaling numerous innovative early childhood intervention models, in partnership with entities such as Lee Pesky Learning Center, Pomona School District, Los Angeles Universal Preschool, Westminster Public Schools, State of Vermont, and others.



University of Utah: An Innovative Campus

The University of Utah is recognized as one of the best in the nation at creating startup companies based on student and faculty research. This is indicative of the innovative and industrious thinking found across campus.

Whether it's the unmatched mountain setting, the University of Utah's unique, innovative, and entrepreneurial environment, or access to leading faculty and practitioners, attend one of the Early Childhood Innovation Lab's spring or fall 6-day labs to gain an entrepreneurial mindset, incubate new ideas, and gain a national network of innovators to better serve the children in your community.

Learn more about the University of Utah's unique innovation ecosystem 
and the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

See a birds-eye-view of the campus.



The State of Utah: Stay and Play

As a bonus, the Early Childhood Innovation Lab resides in Utah—an incredible setting that you won't want to miss. Tack on a few extra days to get away from your desk, see the sites, and get inspired.

Utah is known for world-class outdoor recreation and spectacular landscapes in Utah’s National Parks. Visitors will discover a thriving restaurant scene, a rich selection of museums, and cultural attractions: 

  • Historic downtown Salt Lake City
  • Historic Park City (home of the Sundance Film Festival)
  • A hiking mecca amid the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, Traverse Ridge and Great Salt Lake
  • Five National Parks

Plan your extended travel experience




The Early Childhood Innovation Lab cost is $3,000 and includes a 6-day seminar, shuttles, food, and sightseeing. Participants are responsible for their own airfare to/from Salt Lake City.

Participants will also be responsible for housing, and a room block has been reserved for participants to stay in the University Guest House for 6 nights (Sunday through Saturday). The University Guest House is located on the University of Utah campus and within walking distance of the David Eccles School of Business Executive Education Building where the lab is held. 



Lab Dates
Spring: June 4—9, 2018 (now open)


This lab was created through a collaboration with National Head Start Association and various other partners.