Get reimbursed for COVID-19 testing and treatment of uninsured individuals.     Learn more »

Word Gap Challenge Finalists Advance

Senior Advisor Jaime Resnick (left) looks on as Maternal & Child Health Bureau Associate Administrator Dr. Michael Lu questions a contestant in the $25,000 semi-finals of the Word Gap Challenge.
Senior Advisor Jaime Resnick (left) looks on as Maternal & Child Health Bureau Associate Administrator Dr. Michael Lu questions a contestant in the $25,000 semi-finals of the Word Gap Challenge. Nine teams from universities, private firms and non-profits vied in a day-long "shark tank" at HHS headquarters on Sept. 22 to advance their inventions on ways to increase the vocabulary of disadvantaged pre-schoolers.     

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​"I have to say, it was a pretty intense discussion -- recognizing just how incredible the work that you have done is, and the potential to really make a difference ... Just know that you really represent the best of the best. We had a lot of applications, a lot of proposals, from all over the country, and you were the finalists ... I was completely blown away.​" -Dr. Michael Lu, Associate Administrator, HRSA Maternal and Child Health Bureau, announcing the five finalists who will go on for a chance to win up to $100,000 in March.

The challenge: It is estimated that disadvantaged preschoolers hear 30 million fewer words in the home as toddlers, posing a "word gap" that can leave them in a "life-long" competitive deficit by the time they reach elementary education, said Dr. Lu. Further, 93 million adults in the U.S. read at a 4th-grade level, making it less likely they will read to their children. Entries to the HRSA-sponsored contest included talking e-books, smartphone apps, and an emphasis on learning in children's native language. Learn more on the Word Gap and the President's Early Learning Agenda.

Representing the winning teams (from left) were Kathy Bigelow, University of Kansas Juniper Gardens Children's Project, Talk Around Town; Chris Boggiano, Stanford University, start-up entrepreneur, Starling; Nina Smith, Chicago LEAP, Beginning With Babble; Dr. Ashley Darcy Mahoney, Emory University, Hablame​ Bebe; Aimee Ketchum, pediatric occupational therapist and app developer, Word Gap App.
Representing the winning teams (from left) were Kathy Bigelow, University of Kansas Juniper Gardens Children's Project, Talk Around Town; Chris Boggiano, Stanford University, start-up entrepreneur, Starling; Nina Smith, Chicago LEAP, Beginning With Babble; Dr. Ashley Darcy Mahoney, Emory University, Hablame​ Bebe; Aimee Ketchum, pediatric occupational therapist and app developer, Word Gap App. ​Read about the finalists and their entries.

Technology for better health and learning: (clockwise from upper-left) Principal organizers Jessie Buerlein and Jaime Resnick of MCHB; semi-finalist and author Peggy Sissel of Arkansas Reach Out and Read makes her pitch; Ebony Pope of Washington, D.C.'s Village Capital was among a panel of experts who explained how to get venture funding for health-tech ideas; HHS Chief Technology Officer Susannah Fox said public health is fertile ground for entrepreneurial ingenuity; Sandeep Patel, HHS Open Innovation Manager, led the talk on financing new ideas; MCHB Senior Advisor Natasha Coulouri​s was among audience members, fellow competitors and judges who peppered presenters with questions throughout the day.
Technology for better health and learning: (clockwise from upper-left) Principal organizers Jessie Buerlein and Jaime Resnick of MCHB; semi-finalist and author Peggy Sissel of Arkansas Reach Out and Read makes her pitch; Ebony Pope of Washington, D.C.'s Village Capital was among a panel of experts who explained how to get venture funding for health-tech ideas; HHS Chief Technology Officer Susannah Fox said public health is fertile ground for entrepreneurial ingenuity; Sandeep Patel, HHS Open Innovation Manager, led the talk on financing new ideas; MCHB Senior Advisor Natasha Coulouri​s was among audience members, fellow competitors and judges who peppered presenters with questions throughout the day.

Dr. Lu and Google's Roy Daiany
Queries from the front row​: Dr. Lu and Google's Roy Daiany.

Date Last Reviewed:  July 2017