FY22-23 Innovation Grants

Smart Start of Mecklenburg's vision is that every child in Mecklenburg County enters kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed. To advance this vision, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County (SSMC) is seeking letters of intent for one time funding to encourage development of innovative ideas.


Smart Start's approach to this year's Innovation Grants is to support systems building activities that advance positive, long-lasting change for young children and their families. This approach presents an opportunity to support community initiatives addressing the root causes of seemingly intractable or "sticky" problems and/or barriers. While many community programs provide needed services and support, system work elevates interventions beyond short-lived solutions.

To advance this approach, cross-sector collaboration is required. We welcome combined fiscal agent/partner agency approach; however, you do not have to operate under that construct to be considered for an award.

Activities can include data collection, community engagement and conversations, including exploring the historical exclusion of community members and groups. In the context of your focus area, please address systemic root causes:
  • Mindsets - Attitudes, values, and beliefs that shape individual and collective behavior
  • Power - How decisions are made (e.g., closed rooms or open participation) and who participates (e.g., power brokers or diverse stakeholders).
  • Inequities - Examine practices to identify inequities in any aspect of service delivery.
  • Policies - Regulations, laws, practices, procedures, and daily routines that shape the behavior of individuals, groups, organization.
  • Connections - Create strong linkages across system components that further improve results for children and families.
  • Resources - Relationships and exchanges between people and organizations.
  • Service components/Infrastructure - Relevant services & supports to meet family needs including range, quality, effectiveness, and location.


Apply the systems change approach to one of the following focus areas.
  • Parent/caregiver engagement and empowerment.
    • Parents are the best advocates for their child, and, yet in 2022, parenting is more complex and challenging than ever. It's important to equip parents/caregivers with the skills and confidence to advocate within all systems impacting their child. We seek partners working across existing community and parent organizations to test new models of parent/caregiver empowerment and advocacy education.
  • Fostering social and emotional skills in children ages 0-5.
    • Social and emotional wellness in the early years, also referred to as early childhood mental health, refers to a child's emerging capacity to:
      • Experience, regulate and express a range of emotions.
      • Develop close, satisfying relationships with other children and adults.
      • Actively explore their environment and learn. 
During the pandemic, socialization losses deprived many young children of the opportunity to learn and practice social and emotional skills. To remediate this loss, Smart Start seeks to foster an increased focus on the development of social and emotional skills, including the promotion of an accountable and effective system of care.


Funding is available for projects with a budget ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 that can provide evidence of success within 18 months and be completed by June 30, 2024. Community initiatives not currently receiving Smart Start funding are encouraged to apply. To be considered, complete the pre-application on this fillable PDF and budget documentation (to access the ABLe document links, the PDF must be downloaded and accessed through Adobe Reader or through the links below). The pre-application is a statement of intent designed to introduce your proposed project to the SSMC team who will work with you towards the submission of a full proposal. The full proposal will be very similar to the pre-application form; however, questions can be tailored for your specific project. This process is designed to be collaborative, simple and open. We welcome questions and feedback.


supporting documents