Highlights and Winners from the 2017 Tech and Early Ed Incubator


The Headstarter Network’s 2017 Tech and Early Education Incubator brought together some of the brightest minds in technology, design, academia, and early childhood education to explore bold new ideas with practical implications. 

The Incubator challenged these creative minds to develop an idea that enhances the impact of early childhood education through the use of technology. The winning idea, Project Safe-AR-I (pronounced, “safari”), used augmented reality (AR) technology to give more kids access to experiential learning. The team proposed lessons teaching math, literacy, and empathy skills that were engaging for children while also being developmentally appropriate. 

Other ideas hatched at the Incubator:

  • A blockchain platform prototype that will change the distribution of early childhood data and empower children and families to control the use of their personal information. (Winner: Best Long-term Impact and Systemic Implications)
  • Using artificial intelligence developed from data collected by wearable technology to help teachers and students alleviate toxic stress in children. (Winner: Best Use of Technology to Develop Empathy)
  • Create elevated classrooms that use open source technology collected by automated tools to reduce burdensome, redundant tasks and improve serves. (Winner: Best Use of Integrated Technology)


Interview with the winning team


After Project Safe-AR-I was announced as the Grand Prize winner, the HeadStarter Network interviewed several members of the team about their Incubator experience.

HeadStarter Network: How do you feel about winning today?

Karen Carradine (Vice President of Geminus Head Start): I feel like I should go to Disney World! [Laughs]. I feel wonderful about it.

HSN: Why do you think it’s important that Safe-AR-I be brought to market?

Karen: I agree with the judges, it is a here-and-now moment for us. I feel like all the stars lined up for us. The IT is where it needs to be, all we need to do is use it for this idea. 

HSN: Why are you so passionate about supporting the HeadStarter Network?

Karen: As an alumni, as a child from Head Start, my whole life and career has been given to the Head Start program. Anything that I can do to expand their ability to have access, I feel like that’s my role. That’s what I’ve been asked to do in this world. This was an amazing team, and we just have to take this on the road and travel together!

HSN: For the team leader, what was it like working with this group and pulling it all together? 

Ehren Wolfe (graduate student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with the Lab for Autonomous and Interactive Robotics): I learned so much from everyone and everyone had so much to bring to the project and I think  what gave us our success is that we were all engaged in our disciplines. We’re a very interdisciplinary team, so we were all able to bring the strengths from our different fields to the table and help make a difference.

HSN: For Colleen, who was also on a winning team at the HeadStarter Network’s 2016 event, what is the key to success?

Colleen Anderson (Executive Director of Content Development for Ready Rosie): Both times I feel so lucky that I was on great teams that really were passionate about changing things for children and families, and social justice. And I think when you’re passionate about the issue you’re working on, you put together a great pitch! My last team’s project is actually in place. They moved forward and did it, and I think for this team the same thing is going to happen. It’s such a great idea, and it’s do-able. 

HSN: Any final thoughts?

Jake McClure (Chairman of the Board of Directors for Salado Montessori): I just wish everybody had won because all of the ideas have the potential to build kids into even more amazing people. 

Dr. Stephen Hupp (Department of Psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville): I learned a lot from the other teams, and I learned a lot from the judges over the past couple days, so it’s been a great learning experience for me.

Dan Benyishay