Making Early Education a National Priority

Tinycare founder Michael Lai

Ulupreneur Michael Lai is an advocate of education. He has dedicated himself to early childhood education (ECE) as a way to make the biggest difference in kids’ lives. Through Tinycare he also works to create more equitable working conditions for those who care for the next generation. Quality ECE is in short supply in the US and it has long term implications for our kids and the economy. Tinycare’s apartment based pre-school education provides teachers better compensation than traditional systems. A scalable economic model that allows families to benefit from near site daycare. It made sense to us that when teachers and their parents are less stressed, kids thrive

Ulupreneur Michael Lai’s passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion began at a young age. Michael was born in China, and grew up in a predominantly white suburb of LA. Like many immigrants, he found being different sometimes had a sting to it and he strived to fit in. Early on, he recognized that education was key to equity.

As an undergrad at Harvard, he was a volunteer teacher for fifth and eighth grade classes. While doing grad coursework at the Harvard School of Education, he worked at the elementary, middle school, and college levels. In 2017, he came across a lot of research about child development, and how 90% of a child’s brain volume develops by age five. It was his “aha” moment: if early education was the most impactful, then that was where he wanted to work. At that time he didn’t have any friends with kids and he’d never even changed a diaper. He signed up to become a volunteer preschool teacher and spent two years working in centers in San Francisco, where he found he loved working with toddlers and preschoolers.

After learning about the unbelievable wait lists at preschools in the Bay Area and the fact that teachers were making minimum wage, he realized how broken the U.S. childcare system is and he wanted to do something about it. He explored some different options, and then opened the first Tinycare in San Francisco in 2019. TinyCare offers Montessori-inspired micro daycares and preschools in urban areas, and empowering teachers is built into its business model: the teacher compensation package includes an affordable place to live near where the centers are located. Today, there are 27 Tinycare facilities in the Bay Area. Michael was selected as a Forbes “30 under 30” honoree for Tinycare in 2020.

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Rusty Dornin
Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics.
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