YEI Fellowship team StoryTime was recently awarded the Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health for their startup to scale early literacy via text message— continuing a rich history of social entrepreneurship at Yale. The startup, which represents the innovative efforts of Yale College students Phil Esterman (’17), Henok Addis (’17), Jillian Kravatz (’17) and Jordan Zeldin (University of Florida ’17) has partnered with several New Haven nonprofits and schools to send children’s stories and early literacy activities to parents without books at home. Rather than replace traditional books, StoryTime is an early literacy program for families who can neither afford books nor have ready access to libraries. Early partners include the New Haven YMCA Youth Center and the New Haven Free Public Library. The $25,000 prize money—presented by InnovateHealth Yale—will allow the team to substantially increase the number of families they work with—from 50 to a few thousand. “The money allows us to accelerate pilots we’ve already started,” Esterman says. “It’s unbelievable to think about how many families we’ll be able to share with and learn from.”
Esterman learned about early literacy challenges while teaching at a local Head Start program before coming to Yale. He found his class’s parents struggled to find the time and resources to read to their kids— but nearly all had mobile phones. A computer science and cognitive science major, he joined Addis, Kravatz, and Zeldin to act.
Refining their content strategy is one of the questions the team will explore over the 10-week YEI Fellowship, which officially begins May 20. StoryTime currently has a team of four story writers—Yale students with child development experience. They are also talking with publishers about partnerships. In addition to providing $15,000 in support, the YEI Fellowship will be instrumental in matching StoryTime with experienced mentors and providing opportunities for them to learn business fundamentals and present their startup to investors.
Compared to other universities emphasizing entrepreneurship, Esterman says, “Yale cares deeply about social problems. We care about real challenges in the world, and we care about real challenges in our own neighborhoods. And we have a legacy of students thinking across disciplines to creatively solve them. I think YEI has recognized that and is supporting this culture of social entrepreneurship. It’s a strength we can really build on and a vision the entire university can rally behind.”