Imagine being invited to participate as a mentor in one of the most selective and coveted global startup accelerators - Techstars - for a program specifically focused on early childhood innovation to turn Abu Dhabi into the most family-friendly city in the world. That is exactly what happened to me in early 2023, and it was a game-changing opportunity to make a positive impact in a field that is often overlooked, but critically important for the future of our society.

Techstars is one of the leading global startup accelerators. Each Techstars accelerator program welcomes a batch of companies for a period of 3 months. The process is competitive, admitting fewer applicants to their programs than Harvard or Oxford. According to Forbes, their acceptance rate hovers around 1%. Chosen start-ups go on to benefit from targeted programming and mentorship programs to fine tune their offerings and accelerate their go-to-market strategies. Many of the Techstars startups then scale beyond the program across sectors.

So, when Techstars called me about a new global early childhood innovation cohort, I listened. For context, early childhood development has long been an under-funded and under-innovated field. While 90% of the brain develops within the first five years of life, less than 1% of GDP is spent in the early years in industrialized nations.

Here are the five themes that emerged from the 20 startups selected in ECA’s early childhood innovation program. These themes are global, transcending borders.

  1. Play is learning. Learning is play.
  2. Our brains are social. Relationships drive healthy development.
  3. Young children thrive in multilingual environments
  4. Personalized learning supports children with learning differences
  5.  New technologies are expanding what is possible in the early years.

Read the full article about early childhood education innovation by Isabelle Hau at Forbes.