Boston Innovation Incubator

Great Ideas, from concept to proposal

We believe that education reform is built on great ideas. The Innovation Incubator seeks to surface great ideas, refine them, and built a network of support for implementation. Rather than money, the Innovation Incubator provides the opportunity to share a kernel of an idea with our network, build a team to flesh the idea out, and get feedback on the idea from accomplished educational leaders and policymakers. The Idea Incubator targets potential educational entrepreneurs, and helps them take an idea from a concept to an actionable proposal. 

What is the Innovation Incubator? 

We will officially announce the competition at our March 5 event. At that event and at subsequent convenings, members of our network will have the opportunity to form small teams to develop proposals for educational innovations. The scope of these proposals will be broad—teams might propose a new policy, a new collaboration, or a new program. The members of BLFE will choose three finalist proposals through online voting, and an Expert Review Panel will help select the proposal

The winning team earns the opportunity to “pitch” their proposal to the members of the Expert Review Panel. Though we plan to offer a small cash prize, we believe that the opportunity to have their ideas recognized by accomplished policymakers and leaders will be ample motivation for our members. Rather than funding, the Innovation Incubator offers access: to a network of like-minded educators, and to influential education leaders and policymakers.

The Boston Innovation Incubator has four elements:

1. A diverse network of educators who share an interest in policy and leadership.
During the Winter and Spring of 2008, at least 50 organizations were represented at our networking events. These included 25 different schools (district, charter, and independent), the Boston Public Schools Superintendent's office, BPS DELTAS, Teach for America, Citizen Schools, The Rennie Center, The Boston Foundation, Jobs for the Future, Mass DESE, Education Pioneers, City Year, Harvard Business School, and many more.

2. A series of convenings that bring our members together.

Our first event had over 100 attendees, confirming that there is great demand for a forum like Boston Leaders for the Future of Education. Our first two events focused primarily on casual networking, and we see the impact of these events mainly through anecdotal accounts of new and valuable connections. For our 2009 series, we will take a more proactive role in spurring conversation about important topics.

3. A competition to help steward ideas from concept to proposal.

We will announce the competition at our March 5 convening. The rules will be simple: A team must submit a brief proposal (under five pages) for an educational innovation that would advance public education, consistent with the Boston Leaders for the Future of Education values. The proposal must address a clearly defined need, it must be actionable without major new funding or legislative changes (or, if the new funding or legislative change is the goal, it must provide a realistic strategy to achieve this change), and it must have a broad enough scope to effect a large number of children. It could be a proposal for a new school, a policy brief, a new initiative, or a new organization.

The Boston Leaders for the Future of Education steering committee will assemble the panel that includes a top education policymaker, funder, executive, and researcher. This panel will select the winning proposal from a small slate of finalists.

The team who authors the winning proposal will be invited to a special luncheon with the selection panel. This conversation is the last stage in the process of transforming an idea into an actionable proposal. The panel will serve as "critical friends," asking difficult questions to strengthen the proposal and offering advice and referrals to other leaders who might help implement the proposal. The competition is not about funding, and no funding will be requested or offered. Rather, it is about the linking the current generation of educational leaders with the best minds of the next generation.

We believe that all of our members are potential entrepreneurs, and that entrepreneurship drives education reform. With a forum to generate innovative ideas, and the incentive of having the best ideas published and promoted, we expect to bring out the entrepreneurial best in our members.

4. A webspace to make all proposals available to the public.
Our hope is that the Boston Leaders for the Future of Education can become a new forum for leaders to propose and advance innovative ideas in Boston education. The first step will be to publish the proposals we receive on the website, and to publicize the website so that we get readership outside of our direct network. Future steps may include writing an education blog, or serving as a clearinghouse for resources, events, and job listings that would be of interest to our members.