The Social Innovation Award is an annual competition that brings budding alumni and corps member entrepreneurs together to compete for up to $100,000 in seed funding and to engage in professional coaching designed for early-stage entrepreneurs to accelerate the development and deepen the impact of their ventures. See the 2016 winning ventures and read more about all 2016 finalists.
About the Award
- Award Tracks & Benefits
- Application Process & Timeline
- Selection Process & Criteria
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Social Innovation Award is an annual competition that brings budding alumni and corps members entrepreneurs together to compete for up to $100,000 in seed funding and engage in professional coaching. Our coaching is built for early-stage entrepreneurs designed to accelerate the development and deepen the impact of their ventures.
The Award is intended to spark bold, new innovations that expand opportunities for students in low-income communities and address the root causes of educational inequity.
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The 2017 Social Innovation Award application is now live!
To be considered for the award, applicants must:
- Be a Teach For America alum or corps member. If the applicant's idea or venture includes several co-founders, then the applicant (the alum or corps member) must be a co-founder of the idea or venture.
- Have a bold, innovative idea or be launching a similarly bold, innovative venture that contributes towards ending educational inequity within the United States. We work with all different business models and therefore accept for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid ideas or ventures.
- Not have received financial support from the Overall Track of the award in the past. Prior Pre-Pilot Track winners are still eligible to apply for the Overall Track.
- Not have raised and/or earned more than $1,000,000 in collective revenue.
Award Tracks & Benefits
Applicants may only apply through one of the two tracks detailed below, selecting the track they believe best fits their current idea or venture stage.
The Pre-Pilot Track is intended for eligible applicants who have not yet piloted their idea or have not yet gathered evidence of impact through testing.
Benefits: Guaranteed financial award. Award winners will generally receive between $10,000-20,000 in financial support to test their idea(s).
The Overall Track is intended for eligible applicants who, although still in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process, have already piloted their idea, may have raised some external capital, and are ready to work (or are already working) full-time on their venture.
Please note: Applicants cannot have raised and/or earned more than $1,000,000 in collective revenue.
Overall Track applicants are required to be incorporated by the time the award is disbursed.
Benefits: Guaranteed financial award. Winners will receive up to $100,000 in financial support. Some or all winners will additionally receive consulting support through a Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Team partner.
The final round judges have the discretion to determine the amount of financial support and consulting hours awarded to all of the winners across the tracks.
APPLICATION PROCESS & TIMELINE
The award process consists of both the application rounds and coaching support. Applicants submit materials over the course of multiple rounds of applications and/or interviews. All tracks will complete the same process.
Round 1 (deadline: January 9, 2017)
Applicants must submit the following items thorugh the online application portal by January 9, 2017. Incomplete or late applications will not be considered.
- Online application form
- Resume(s) from all co-founders working on the idea or venture
- One-page executive summary with specific information about the idea or venture
Those who advance to Round 2 of the process will be notified the first week of February 2017. Applicants at this stage will be asked to answer short-answer questions and provide additional materials for reviewers to learn more about the idea or venture.
Finalists will receive personalized coaching, feedback on their pitches and business models, and additional connections to established entrepreneurs. At the end of May finalists will participate in the Final Round Interview Day that will involve multiple interviews and feedback sessions with a pre-selected judging panel. Winners will be announced in June.
Throughout the award process, applicants will have the opportunity to receive feedback from their peers, feedback on the application from judges, and coaching managed by the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Team.
Selection Process & Criteria
Award applications will be evaluated by a pre-selected panel of external partners and internal staff members. Applications will be evaluated against a comprehensive selection rubric that both closely reflects our core values and represents behavioral competencies that are predictive of game-changing ideas or ventures and successful social entrepreneurs.
Applicants are encouraged to spend time internalizing the information provided about our core values and the guiding questions below.
- Is your idea or venture designed to produce game-changing impact for students and families in underserved communities in a unique way?
- Is your idea addressing a pressing need in a unique way that will result in system-wide impact?
- Do you have the commitment, passion, and vision to invest others to become champions for your work?
- Is your focus rooted in your ability to solicit and incorporate feedback from diverse stakeholders and tackle your venture with a focus on race, class, gender, and/or privilege?
Respect & Humility
- Is your motivation rooted in a commitment to serve students, teachers, and communities?
- Do you demonstrate self-awareness and the habit of thoughtful reflection? How does this show up in the evolution of your idea or venture?
Team (For Teams Only)
- Does your team reflect diverse skill sets and perspectives that are strategically utilized?
- Is your team designed for all members to thrive and leverage their unique skills and experiences?
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I'm interested in starting my own venture and applying for this award but do not really know where to start?
Alumni and corps members who are interested in launching a venture but do not know where to start should review the information for our Social Entrepreneurship FAQ and then consider applying for the Pre-Pilot Track: Broader Outcomes or Pilot Track of the Social Innovation Award. These tracks are intended for aspiring social entrepreneurs who may not have any entrepreneurial experience but are still excited to try something new.
Am I eligible to apply if I do not have any entrepreneurial experience?
Yes! Our Pre-Pilot Track is perfect for alumni or corps members who do not have any entrepreneurial experience but are interested in rolling up their sleeves and taking a bold risk on a new idea.
Am I eligible to apply if I have applied for the award before?
Yes. If you applied for the Social Innovation Award in the past, you are welcome to reapply as long as you meet all of the eligibility criteria. Several of our previous award winners applied multiple times.
Am I eligible to apply if my venture is not school or classroom related?
Yes. As long as your idea or venture is committed to expanding life opportunities for students in low-income communities, then it is eligible. We understand that there are many root causes of educational inequity and are excited to see ideas that approach the problem from diverse perspectives.
I have been operating for over a year and have raised some capital. Am I eligible to apply?
Having raised external capital does not preclude an alum or corps member from applying to the Award. In fact, many previous Award winners had raised external capital before applying for the Award. Please note: One of our criteria is that the venture has not raised and/or earned over $1,000,000 in collective revenue.
One of our evaluative criteria is the transformative impact of our Award. We are committed to ensuring that our Award is necessary for the winning idea or venture's success—not just a welcome bonus. Please ensure you clearly articulate how the award will be transformative for the impact of your venture (i.e. winning the financial award will be a critical lever to success and increased impact).
Why are there two tracks of the Award instead of just one?
The inaugural Teach For America Social Innovation Award only consisted of one Award track, which meant that applications from ventures that were in substantially different idea development stages were being compared against each other in the same applicant pool. Because it was difficult to compare and contrast these ventures with one another, we decided to create two tracks: a Pre-Pilot Track and an Overall Track.
Our winners and their organizations serve our communities in unique and exciting ways. Learn more about how award winners are making a difference with students and families in the communities we serve.
NYTimes: App Helps Teachers Track Attendance
Teachers at a high school in Harlem describe the success they've experienced using Miriam Altman’s Kinvolved app.
First-Generation College Student Shares an Incredible Story
An alumna of Zeke Cohen’s program shares the life-changing experiences and skills she gained.
NY1: Combining Passions to Introduce Young Women to STEM
Yamilee Toussaint is honored as New Yorker of the Week for the enriching experiences she provides girls.
NPR: Educator Dreams of Teaching Tech to Beat the Streets
Jonathan Johnson describes emotional experiences in New Orleans that led him to create Rooted School.
Previous Award Winners
Over the past five years, the Award has provided $750,000 in seed grants and in-kind consulting support to 29 finalist and winning early stage social ventures seeking to solve the most persistent problems contributing to educational inequity. Learn more about how award winners are making a difference with students and families in the communities we serve.
- Miriam Altman: Kinvolved
- Kelly Amis: TEACHED
- Milagros Barsallo & Veronica Palmer: RISE Colorado
- Claire Blumenson: Social Justice Project
- Michelle Brown: CommonLit
- Xiaohoa Michelle Ching: Literator
- Zeke Cohen: The Intersection
- Elizabeth Davidson: ScriptEd
- T. Morgan Dixon: GirlTrek
- George Dong: Education In Sight
- Kriste Dragon: Citizens of the World Charter Schools
- Jamie Jenkins: BOOM
- Jonathan Johnson: Rooted School
- Kalani Leifer: COOP
- Toni Maraviglia: Eneza Education
- Elliot Sanchez: mSchool
- Yamilee Toussaint: STEM From Dance
- Rachel Willis: Elevating Equity
As a corps member, Miriam Altman (New York ’08) worked to develop strategies to improve student attendance rates and leverage family involvement in school while teaching high school history. This experience led her, along with co-founder Alexandra Meis, to create Kinvolved in 2013.
Kinvolved is a social enterprise helping schools and youth programs leverage family engagement to drive impact on lifelong student achievement. Kinvolved aims to improve the attendance and achievement of every student by creating a space for meaningful communication and academic accountability.
Kelly Amis (Los Angeles ’90) taught in South Central Los Angeles as a charter corps member in 1990. She went on to earn an M.A. in Education Policy Analysis from Stanford University and research the Australian education system as a Fulbright Scholar. Kelly has worked for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and several education reform organizations, including the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Sallie Mae Fund, and Fight For Children.
Kelly and her production company, Loudspeak Films, created a short documentary film series, TEACHED. The films document the causes and consequences of education inequality in America, particularly as experienced by urban students of color. TEACHED provides conversation-starters for thoughtful, candid discussion and community action planning.
Milagros Barsallo (Colorado ’09) taught 3rd and 4th grade as a corps member in Colorado. Committed to further engaging students’ families, she moved on to serve as a community organizer working with low-income Latino families to help them navigate the school system. She then served as a consultant on education research and community organizing projects for the Colorado Education Initiative, Leadership for Educational Equity, and Denver Public Schools’ Office of Family and Community Engagement.
Veronica Palmer (Los Angeles ’06) is a 7th generation Colorado native. Veronica became the first Latina Student Body President at the University of Colorado and went on to graduate from Loyola Marymount University with a Master’s in Education. Veronica taught 3rd grade in Los Angeles, became a founding Kindergarten teacher at KIPP Raíces Academy in East LA and later joined TFA’s staff. She has also participated in Senator Mike Johnston’s Urban Leaders Fellowship and was appointed to the national TFA Latino Advisory Council.
Milagros and Veronica co-founded RISE in 2012 with the belief that empowered families will be the ones to truly create systemic change in public schools. RISE’s mission is to educate, engage, and empower low-income families and families of color to RISE as change agents for educational equity in our public school system.
After teaching 3rd and 4th grade as a corps member, Claire Blumenson (New York ’06) went to law school to pursue education law and juvenile justice. After graduating, Claire worked at the DC Public Defender Service as a special education attorney inside a secure juvenile facility, representing students with disabilities, who had been committed to the custody of DC's juvenile justice agency.
Claire’s experience inspired her and co-founder Sarah Comeau to create the School Justice Project (SJP), whose mission is to protect and enforce the special education rights of older students during incarceration and throughout reentry. Claire and Sarah were awarded the Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellowship in 2013.
As a corps member, Michelle Brown (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’09) taught 7th grade English Language Arts at Leflore County High School in Itta Bena, Mississippi. In her first couple of years teaching, Michelle never felt like she met her full potential because she spent so much of her time struggling to find high-quality free texts online. This struggle ultimately led her to launch CommonLit in 2013.
CommonLit is a nonprofit where teachers can access a diverse, open collection of news articles, short stories, historical documents, scientific articles, and poems. Every text is print-ready and formatted with rigorous text-based questions to challenge students at every reading level. CommonLit’s framework is based on the idea that every student deserves to be challenged with the highest quality reading materials.
Xiaohoa Michelle Ching is the founder and CEO of Literator. Literator was born out of struggles Michelle encountered in her 2nd grade classroom at Reach Academy. She realized that meeting the individual needs of students was critical but extremely complicated. Literator provides a tool that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance while providing analysis and guidance.
Literator frees schools from relying on infrequent testing data by providing actionable insights through one-on-one observations. It provides a tool that allows teachers to easily collect data on student reading performance while providing analysis and guidance. Students and parents can see learning progress in real-time, making them feel more empowered in the process.
Zeke Cohen (Baltimore ’08) is a social justice warrior for life who fights to bring young people to the decision-making table. He began his fight for social justice as a student at Goucher College and then continued as a middle school social studies teacher in Baltimore. Zeke has been named one of Maryland’s “Top 20 Leaders In Their Twenties” and awarded the “We Are The Dream Award” by the Baltimore City Council.
In 2011, Zeke founded The Intersection, an organization committed to developing students’ leadership and teaching them the skills to get to and through college, engage in civic action, and articulate and solve challenges facing them and their communities.
Elizabeth Davidson (Greater Philadelphia ’06) has dedicated her career to serving our nation’s public school students and improving our public schools. She began her career is as a corps member in Philadelphia and now oversees the strategy, policy, communications, and labor negotiations related to Advance, NYC’s teacher evaluation and development system.
Liz co-founded ScriptEd with Maurya Couvares. ScriptEd is a nonprofit that provides computer programming classes and professional experiences to students in low-income schools. The classes are taught by professional programmers who provide both mentorship and the most up-to-date information to students. Many ScriptEd students say that if they had never enrolled in the program, they would never have had the opportunity to learn how to code.
Since joining the corps, T. Morgan Dixon (Metro Atlanta ’09) has been on the front lines of education reform. She has served as in senior leadership in several of the largest charter school networks in the country and directed the development and start-up of six public schools in NYC. Morgan has also been named among the top 1% of global social innovators by Echoing Green and Ashoka.
Morgan is the co-founder and director of GirlTrek, a national movement to activate one million Black women to be change makers in their lives and communities—by walking in their neighborhoods. Since its launch, tens of thousands of women have signed GirlTrek’s pledge to walk in their neighborhoods every Saturday and work to establish walking as a tradition in their communities.
As a teacher, George Dong ( Chicago–Northwest Indiana ’09) experienced firsthand how poor vision hindered academic learning while teaching in Chicago and completing research in rural China. In both experiences, George’s eyes were opened to the fact that uncorrected vision problems drastically affect students’ learning outcomes.
Outraged and inspired by this global problem, George founded Education In Sight with the mission to improve the academic performance of low-income students with poor vision by providing low-cost glasses and eye care education in the classroom. Education In Sight believes that direct access to eye care is the right of every student in the world.
Kriste Dragon (Los Angeles ’09) began her work in education as a middle school math teacher in South Los Angeles. She later served as Executive Director of Teach For America in Los Angeles and Vice President of regional operations for six of Teach For America’s western regions. She has also served as professional development coordinator at UCLA’s Center X, developing mathematics curricula and training more than 4,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Dragon co-created Citizens of the World Charter Schools, a network of schools that offers a rigorous learning experience for students from all backgrounds. The network’s mission is to impact and expand the conversation about what an excellent education contains, requires, and accomplishes. The network has schools in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and New York.
After graduating with her M.A. in teaching, with a specialization in National Board Certification, her deep desire for ensuring students and families from marginalized communities were centered in the truest sense led her to coaching corps members in the Mississippi Delta. Jamie's work then expanded to include designing, facilitating, and training facilitators on diversity and inclusiveness curriculums. She spearheaded the vision and pilots for Pre-Corps Development in Teach For America, including the Education for Justice Pre-Corps Pilot Program. Jamie also leads decolonization work for people of color, particularly women, and is active in Dallas justice circles.
BOOM seeks to reconnect children of Black-African descent to their ancestral history and heritage of ingenuity and enterprise, which was systematically buried through slavery, apartheid and anti-Black racism. The program will enlist, educate and empower young Black visionaries to be solutions-leaders who cultivate consciousness and collective-progress for Black people and ultimately counteract systemic racism and oppression.
Jonathan Johnson (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’10) began his career teaching 8th grade social studies at KIPP Central City Academy in New Orleans. While a teacher, 83 percent of Jonathan’s students achieved a passing score on the 8th grade test when the average passage rate was 57 percent in his district.
Through a partnership between New Schools for New Orleans, 4.0 Schools, and Khan Academy to incubate innovative public schools in New Orleans, Jonathan founded Rooted School in 2014. Rooted School will be a network of high schools in New Orleans and beyond that prepares students for college and careers across several high-growth, high-wage industries. Rooted School’s flagship campus focuses on the digital media sector, creating a model of schools that provide lucrative career pathways for students.
Kalani began his career as a corps member, teaching high school history in the Bronx. He was fortunate to work primarily with the Class of 2011, his school’s tight-knit inaugural cohort. The strong, resilient, productive bonds between students were an early inspiration for COOP’s peer-led, cohort-based theory of change. After his time in the classroom, Kalani moved to Zurich and joined McKinsey & Company, where he focused on school modernization and early childhood education projects in the Middle East. He was also a founding member of McKinsey’s “Education to Employment” initiative. Kalani continued this work at Google in California, leading the development of “Google Partners,” a training and certification portal for digital careers.
COOP ("koh-op") connects underrepresented college grads to each other—and to meaningful careers in tech, media, and design; in turn, we help companies find and hire excellent candidates from diverse local communities. “Overcoming underemployment” is COOP's mission, and the community aims to launch 10,000 careers by 2025—starting in New York City (2014) and the San Francisco Bay Area (2016).
Toni Maraviglia's (New York ’05) rich teaching career and experience living in rural Kenya led her to create a social enterprise to improve African students’ access to quality education. Toni taught at Harlem Village Academies and has 10+ years teaching/managing teachers.She co-founded Eneza Education with the mission to make 50 million kids across rural Africa smarter.
Eneza's content is aligned to the local context, and it uses the most common form of technology in Kenya, the mobile device. It also give schools and parents access to meaningful data and tips for helping students. Eneza believes that even schools that don’t have access to the internet or the latest technological gadgets deserve quality educational materials too.
After teaching students who had been expelled from traditional settings in post-Katrina New Orleans, Elliot Sanchez (Greater New Orleans–Louisiana Delta ’08) began working with districts as a founding member of the School Turnaround Office within the Louisiana Department of Education. He later served as a statewide STEM consultant as well as Executive Director in the Portfolio Office of the Recovery School District.
mSchool is an online learning software that provides students with differentiated, personalized math games covering exactly the lessons they're ready to learn next. The software aims to improve students’ math scores by creating individual pathways to success and save teachers countless hours with automatic reports on student progress.
As an undergraduate student at MIT, Yamilee Toussaint (New York ’08) watched an alarming number of fellow black female students leave her engineering program under the grip of self-doubt. This experience, followed by two years teaching high school math, helped her realize that that confidence is one of the main barriers that keep underrepresented minority girls from entering—and staying in—STEM.
Yamilee founded STEM From Dance to unlock the power in underrepresented minority, high school girls to become future STEM leaders by using dance to intimately expose them to the wonders of STEM, enriching their STEM education, and equipping them with the confidence and cognitive-thinking skills needed to pursue a STEM education.
Jamie's work for justice began in 2003 through activism for voters’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and economic justice. In 2007, she moved her efforts to the classroom, teaching . An award winning educator, Rachel Willis has over a decade of experience teaching and leading in K-12 and graduate level settings. Named the 2009 Atlanta Public Schools Elementary Teacher of the Year and 2010 Milken Educator Award recipient, Rachel served on Governor Nathan Deal’s (R-GA) Education Advisory Board and was appointed as a trustee to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.
In 2012, Rachel was recruited to redesign a professional development program centered around culturally responsive teaching and race and equity for corps members and alumni in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. During this time, Rachel also designed and served as a co-instructor of a pilot program at Columbia University’s Teachers College focused on preparing current and aspiring principals to lead racially equitable schools.
As the founder of Elevating Equity, Rachel spends her time supporting educators and community members through their journey of leading anti-racist, culturally responsive schools and organizations.