The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Support.

Put Your Ideas to work for workers

We need leaders with new ideas to help unlock the potential of every worker to participate in shaping how our society works. The Workers Lab exists because funding for new ideas is difficult to come by, especially innovative ideas that work for working people. We invest in leaders who are ready to put their ideas to the test, to learn, and share that learning so others can build on it.

The COVID-19 national emergency is exposing  major gaps in the existing social safety net. During this time of crisis, new ideas to support workers are more important than ever. For this reason, we are committed to proceeding with the current cycle of the Innovation Fund. We have adjusted our schedules (see below) and are in the process of arranging for virtual activities for our Innovation Fund Finalists Showcase.

For our Spring 2020 Innovation Fund cycle, we’re looking for innovative ideas focused on the various kinds of support workers need to realize their aspirations for themselves, their families, and communities. We’re looking for new ideas that include but are not limited to: 

  • Transportation or transit access to work 
  • Physical or mental health and well being

  • Communication between workers on a single worksite or across sites

  • Protection against wage theft and exploitative conditions

  • Streamlined access to safety net supports and protections in the case of hardship or retirement

  • Access to training, education, and transition services 

  • Work stability and quality


Innovation Fund award winners receive $150,000 and support over 12 months to test their idea's potential for growth. Anyone can apply; we provide funding to community-based organizations, nonprofits, co-ops, social entrepreneurs, private and public sector leaders. Previous applicants are encouraged to apply, although Fall 2019 winners are ineligible for this cycle’s prize.

If you, or someone you know, has an idea to improve workers’ lives, we encourage you to apply this cycle.

Apply Now

Winners get
$150,000
to test their idea's
potential for growth.

Take Me To The Application

Not ready to apply?

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The 4 Things You Can
Do Now to Prepare
Your Innovation Fund

Application

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CATALYTIC FUNDING FOR WORKER-INSPIRED SOLUTIONS

OPEN CALL

Application Officially Opens I March 11, 2020 at 8:00am PST
Applications will be accepted until 11:59pm PST on April 22, 2020. 

Info Session Webinars
Webinar 1 | Tuesday, April 7, 2020, 11am PST
Webinar 2 | Friday, April 10, 2020, 11am PST
RSVP for the webinar here. 

SEMI-FINALISTS

Please note that if you are selected as a semi-finalist, additional documentation will be requested, including project financials, a logo (if available), a headshot, etc.

Semi-Finalists Notified and Additional Information Requested I Date TBD
Semi-Finalist Additional Information Due | Date TBD

FINALISTS

Given ongoing concerns related to COVID-19 we will no longer host The Innovation Fund Finalist Showcase May 7-8 in San Francisco. We are currently developing a plan to conduct these activities virtually.

Finalists Announced | Date TBD
Finalist Showcase | Date TBD

Apply Now

Contact us if you have any questions. 

OPEN CALL

Snapshot of Applicant + Project

  • Share general demographic and geographic information
  • Describe the problem addressed and the solution proposed
  • Share the project’s approach to providing support for workers to have more agency, autonomy, and/or power in different areas of their lives
  • Articulate the proposed project’s goals and strategies
  • Describe the proposed project’s stage of development and potential pathways for scale and sustainability

Questions: PDF | Google Doc

SEMI-FINALS

Deeper Dive on Financial Picture, Capacities & Learning/Sharing Plan

  • Provide details about the skills/experience of the team
  • Illustrate full financial picture for this project to be successful
  • Elaborate on how the Innovation Fund grant would be used to advance their project
  • Discuss how this project will evaluate and share learnings

Apply Now

OPEN CALL

  • This project addresses a critical problem facing workers today.
  • This project proposes an innovative solution that directly addresses the outlined problem.
  • This project has a clear approach to supporting workers to realize their aspirations for themselves, their families, and their communities
  • This project outlines clear S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • This project employs effective strategies to achieve the outlined S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • This project has identified or thoughtfully considered a potential pathway to scale and/or sustainability through new revenue sources and/or by leveraging for-profit, non-profit and/or public sector partners.

 

SEMI-FINALS

  • This team has the skills and experience needed to successfully execute this project.
  • This project has thoughtfully considered how to maximize Innovation Fund dollars and raise new funding sources to advance this project.
  • This project has a strong process for continuous learning and generating real-time insights.
  • The project leader can convey a clear and compelling pitch by video. We're looking for compelling content, not video quality.

 

FINALS

If you are selected as a finalist, a senior member of your project team will be required to participate in an  Innovation Fund Finalist Showcase.  Each finalist will give a short pitch and will be interviewed by a panel of reviewers. We will host coaching calls with finalists to share more details on the process.

Apply Now

FALL 2019

Centro-Innovation-Fund-Winner-2019-350x350px

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL)

Over the past two years, CTUL's Construction Campaign committee of 20 non-union construction workers developed the Building Dignity and Respect Standards Council (BDC). The organization collaborates with major developers to define worker-enforced labor standards designed to "raise the floor" of the industry.

Co-op-Dayton-Innovation-Fund-Winner-2019-350x350px

Co-op Dayton

When manufacturers moved abroad, tens of thousands of high-wage jobs disappeared from Dayton, Ohio. Before long, grocery stores and hospitals closed, leaving many Dayton workers struggling with low-wage jobs and few essential services. Co-op Dayton, a nonprofit organization, supports workers frustrated with the old ways and open to creating community and worker-owned businesses.

Migrant-Justice-Innovation-Fund-Winner-2019-350x350px

Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante

Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity program is transforming the dairy industry through enforceable standards to improve dairy workers’ lives. Participating farms must comply with a Code of Conduct that includes worker-defined wages, schedules, housing, health and safety standards, and protection against harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante enlists dairy companies to sign legally-binding agreements committing to source from farms enrolled in Milk with Dignity and pay a premium farmers use to improve conditions.

New-Deal-Home-Innovation-Fund-Winner-2019-350x350px

New Deal Home Improvement Company

Any Green New Deal will provide economic opportunities for construction and remodeling businesses, but not necessarily workers. New Deal Home Improvement Cooperative is a supportive network of worker-owned construction and remodeling companies. By sharing back-office systems, tools and work referrals, small and new construction companies can compete against established businesses.

Working Washington PayUp Innovation Fund Winner 2019

Working Washington #PayUp

#PayUp is a national campaign, led by Working Washington, working to improve pay and protections for gig workers. More than 10,000 app-based delivery workers have joined the #PayUp community, providing data to track shifting pay algorithms and collectively shaping #PayUp’s policy agenda.

Apply Now

ELIGIBILITY & APPLICATION

What types of organizations or entities can apply?

  • Non-profit organizations or fiscally sponsored projects
  • Public sector entities 
  • Businesses are welcome to apply and will be considered on a case by case basis


Can past applicants apply?

Yes, we encourage past applicants to apply unless they received an award in the last cycle. (2019 Fall Innovation Award)

Are there any geographic restrictions? 
Generally, there are no restrictions and we welcome projects nationally and outside of the United States to apply. While we have primarily funded projects based in the United States, we know there are promising innovations happening outside of the United States that have global implications and can have impact in the United States. International applicants will be considered if your organization or fiscal sponsor has a US Tax Identification number.

Are there any industry/sector restrictions?
No.

Are there any restrictions on the staff or budget size of a project or organization?
No. 

Can I/we apply with more than one project? 
Yes, but please note we will only select one project per organization. 

REVIEW PROCESS

How will I/we be evaluated?
On the “Selection Criteria” tab, you will find more information about the criteria and questions we use to evaluate applicants in each round. Applicants will receive an average score based on reviewer responses and reviewers will decide on semi-finalists and finalists primarily based on top scores. 

Is there an expectation that the project is self-sustaining or that it becomes incorporated (as a non-profit, for-profit, etc.) by the end of the grant term?
No. That said, we are especially interested in projects that have thoughtfully considered a potential pathway to scale and/or sustainability.

Who are the reviewers? 
Reviewers in each round will include a mix of The Workers Lab staff and Board, funding partners, and previous Innovation Fund winners.

FINALISTS & WINNERS

If selected as a finalist, do I/we have to attend the Innovation Fund Finalist Showcase?
Yes. One senior member of the project team must be available to participate in the entirety of the Innovation Fund Finalist Showcase.
Given ongoing concerns related to COVID-19 we will no longer host The Innovation Finalist Showcase May 7-8 in San Fran. We are currently developing a plan to conduct these activities virtually.  

If selected as a finalist, will my expenses be covered?
Travel, lodging and incidentals will be covered.

If selected as a winner, will I/we receive $150,000 all at once?
Yes. 

If selected as a winner, what can I/we use the funds for? Are there any restrictions?
Funds should be used in support of the proposed project only. Winners will be required to provide interim and final financial reports (in addition to other reporting requirements) as part of our reporting process.

Outside of $150,000, what can winners expect from The Workers Lab?
At The Workers Lab, we are committed to evaluating progress, learning from successes and challenges, and ensuring that we are regularly leveraging our resources and network to amplify the work of our amazing partners, while minimizing administrative burden. With that in mind, winners are expected to participate in quarterly check-in calls and provide interim and final reports. When possible, we will also bring together winners at least once over the course of 12 months for a tailored cohort convening to workshop challenges, share resources, and connect with peers and advisors. 

GENERAL QUESTIONS

How often does The Workers Lab run the Innovation Fund?
Three times a year

Who can I contact if I have any questions or need more information?
We will be hosting two informational webinars. They will be recorded in case you are unable to join the live session. By registering for a session, you will receive a link to the recording.

Info Session Webinars
Webinar 1 | Tuesday, April 7, 2020, 11am PST
Webinar 2 | Friday, April 10, 2020, 11am PST
RSVP for the webinar here. 

You can contact innovationfund@theworkerslab.com if you have additional questions.

 

Apply Now

INNOVATION FUND UPDATES

Blog post image

Meet the 2019 Winners

Supporting new co-op businesses and partnering with developers to create worker-enforced labor standards are just a few of the ways our Fall 2019 Innovation Fund winners create positive change. Read More...

1- In_The_News

9 Innovators Making an Impact for Working People

Our 2019 Innovation Fund finalists, selected from hundreds of applications, submitted some of the most powerful ideas we’ve seen to date. Read More...

Letter From The Workers Lab Interim CEO Adrian Haro (2)

A Message about the Spring 2020 Innovation Fund and COVID-19

As COVID-19 turned from a news story that seemed far away to a national emergency here at home, we've been working to adjust our programming .... Read More...