Innovation in Action

Our First “Transition to Scalability” Cohort

Our initial Transition to Scalability (TTS) cohort was made up of six teams led by community-based and academic entrepreneurs. Teams were selected from among the Center’s existing Frontiers of Innovation projects. These teams had deep familiarity with intervention design, program evaluation, and real-world knowledge of working with families, but minimal business experience. Their science-based interventions were serving populations within the United States.

The Teams

A FIND coach reviews video clips of everyday positive interactions between a mother and her children with the mother. Photo courtesy of FIND.

Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive “serve and return” interactions between caregivers and children. The FIND team had developed adaptations of FIND for many settings, including pediatrics, center-based and family child care, child welfare, homeless shelters, and more. In the TTS phase, the FIND team focused on designing the business and operational aspects of the organization needed to reach their scaling vision. They explored working with an outside fiscal agent to launch FIND as a stand-alone entity. They also learned more about potential customer needs in different delivery channels, with the goal of selecting one to pursue to scale. They are now poised to implement and carry forward their plans for scaling.

MOMS Partnership
A MOMS Partnership® Community Mental Health Ambassador talks with a mother and her child. Photo courtesy of MOMS Partnership®.

Mental health Outreach for Mothers (MOMS) Partnership® provides over-burdened, under-resourced moms with a suite of supports (including cognitive behavioral therapy) in their local communities that reduce symptoms of depression and increase economic mobility. Their vision is to provide mothers with the tools and services they need to successfully move out of poverty. In the TTS phase, the MOMS team identified the core elements of their model necessary for replication, pitched to a set of innovative state TANF systems to join them as replication partners, selected the next three sites for replication, and began developing a Policy Lab to house their replication and evaluation efforts.

Motivational Boost is a tech-based, add-on intervention designed to increase engagement in parenting programs by eliciting and then reinforcing a parent’s core values. Community organizations often purchase parenting interventions as a low-cost, population-level way to decrease child abuse/neglect and improve mental health. Low initial engagement and high attrition rates are an ongoing challenge, particularly for interventions that use a remote format, such as online courses. Motivational Boost aims to increase engagement in these parenting interventions in order to improve parent/child relationships. In the TTS phase, this team developed a scaling strategy, selected a delivery channel to pursue, learned more about the problems faced by this delivery channel, and began to seek a social entrepreneur to join their team.

Ready4Routines facilitator Dominique Hinton walks a parent group through the PEERE process: Pause, Engage, Encourage, Reflect, and Extend.

Ready4Routines (R4R) is a curriculum for parents that uses daily family routines to increase child and adult executive function skills and relationship quality, while reducing parental stress. During TTS, the R4R team pursued three different delivery channels for scaling R4R: One was in its original form, through a partnership with mental health and early care and education programs in Los Angeles County. A second version, ShineOn Families, was a lighter version of R4R, delivered across a much longer time frame to Head Start programs. The third involved early stage exploration of a sellable app.

Tools of the Mind (Tools): Tools of the Mind is a preschool and kindergarten curriculum that uses play to scaffold children’s executive function skills. The Tools team had recently developed an app, Power Tools, to support and scaffold individualized reading. Power Tools can analyze reading skill down to a specific word a child is struggling with and provide that level of detail to the teacher. In the TTS phase, the Tools team developed a business plan to put themselves on a sustainable, self-funded trajectory. They also continued to build the evidence of Power Tools’ effectiveness.

Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan (WOOP) is an evidence-based, motivational intervention focused on planning and meeting goals, with demonstrated effectiveness in a diversity of adult populations. The TTS project focused on WOOP’s adaptation for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) settings, with caseworkers and with clients. During TTS, the WOOP team developed their scaling strategy, acknowledging that how they got from zero to four sites was not going to be the same strategy that would help them grow from four to 10, and 10 to 100 sites. The team focused on developing a set of marketing and training materials that were scalable, and then testing and revising them. They also explored how the WOOP intervention fits into a larger change vision for TANF settings.


The initial TTS teams made tremendous progress during their engagement with FOI. All of the teams began to develop the organizational side of their ventures, to complement their strong impact work, and to carry their ventures to scale. They also put in place essential building blocks for their growth toward scale, including:

  • One team received a significant investment in its next phase of funding.
  • One team became deeply engaged in conversation with seven new funders to support growth.
  • One team sought a social entrepreneur to join them to lead their scaling strategy.
  • One team selected their delivery channel for scale and hired a Managing Director.
  • One team simplified their model to make it more replicable and confirmed partnership in new sites for replication.
  • One team made a significant realization about its potential role in systems change beyond scaling an individual intervention, and pivoted its efforts.

Lessons Learned

In the first year of TTS, FOI set out to help teams move beyond early feasibility (incubation) and toward scale. From their TTS experiences, we learned the following:

Use lean start-up tools to launch thinking about the business side of scaling. By using the tools and mindsets from the Lean Startup, developing a business plan suddenly seemed more doable.

Rapid-cycle testing applies the same to intervention development as it does to developing a business model. Teams were pleasantly surprised to realize they could go out and have conversations and iterate on their business model approach, much in the same way they were already doing with the intervention itself.

In the early childhood sector, there can be up to three customers at any one time. Most traditional business models assume you have one customer, who both uses your product and pays for it. When serving children and families facing adversity, interventions can have up to three potential customers, with only one paying for it. First, there is the recipient of the intervention—a child, an adult, or the pair. Second is the customer who delivers the intervention, such as a home visitor, teacher, or case worker. Then there’s the actual customer who pays for the intervention’s expansion, such as government or a large non-profit. Understanding how an intervention fills a need for each of these customers is crucial.

The team that got you through incubation might not be the same one that takes you through scaling. The strengths and skills needed during the incubation phase and impact development, are not the same ones needed to build a business and find delivery channels and customers. Teams spent time during this phase working on questions such as, “Who do I need to have on my team to scale successfully with impact?”

The strengths and skills needed during the incubation phase and impact development, are not the same ones needed to build a business and find delivery channels and customers.

Beyond the work with the TTS teams, the Center also sought to understand much more about the innovation ecosystem in early childhood. To do that, we formed a learning community with other organizations that were similarly looking to grow the innovation ecosystem by bringing in business and social entrepreneurship, including Promise Venture Studio, Gary Community Investments, and Omidyar Network. This learning community shared observations, lessons learned, and ideas for what to try next.

Next Steps

In looking ahead to the next cohort of TTS teams, FOI leaders are eager to iterate, build on what worked well, and try out some new ideas. Here are some of the ideas we are considering:

  • Recruiting a mixed cohort of academic entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. How would a mix of teams—i.e., ones who are strong on building and measuring impact, and ones who are strong on building business and scale—accelerate the pace of learning and doing?
  • Developing offerings to scaffold social entrepreneur teams seeking to deepen their understanding of the science and of how to continuously learn about their impact.
  • Introducing business and scaling topics to teams earlier in the innovation process, so that teams can plan for the operational side of scaling right from the start.
  • Continuing to learn with others about what is needed to help the early childhood innovation ecosystem thrive.

Learn more about Transition to Scalability

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