The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Investment.

In 2022, The Workers Lab is implementing a new type of Innovation Fund, a fellowship for innovators and entrepreneurs of color, in partnership with the Workers Benefit Fund. 

How is our 2022 Innovation Fund different from previous years?

Rather than receiving a one-time investment, with twelve months of technical assistance, finalists will have two opportunities for funding and more extensive support. The initial set of finalists will join a cohort of entrepreneurs for a six-month fellowship and receive a stipend of up to $50,000 to grow their ideas. The fellowship will culminate in an Innovation Fund Showcase where they will be able to pitch their ideas for investments. The best ideas among the fellows will receive additional funding, up to $250,000, and participate in a year-long cohort to prepare them to receive larger-scale investments. Through this program, we aim to develop a pipeline for entrepreneurs of color by developing an ecosystem and landscape to provide investors the opportunity to access businesses, innovations, and ideas led by entrepreneurs of color. 

Applications for our 2022 Innovation Fund Fellowship will be accepted in late summer. 

Once the applications portal opens, you can set up your AwardForce account and start your application, which can be saved until you’re ready to submit. Please review the details and FAQs available below before you get started. Participants in the initial six-month fellowship will be announced in late fall.

About Our Innovation Fund and Past Investments

Our purpose at The Workers Lab is to give new ideas for workers a chance to succeed. Through the Innovation Fund, we invest in new ideas that others are working on. Since 2014, the Innovation Fund has invested over $5 million in 78 innovators. As champions of new ideas for workers, The Workers Lab understands that bringing creative, transformative ideas to fruition requires investment. In other fields, financial resources might come from private equity or venture capital. Those investments aren’t typically available for ideas that are designed to solve problems facing workers. The Workers Lab is changing that. The innovations we invest in address immediate and structural problems that exist because our systems and structures are outdated and weren’t created with all workers in mind.

Check out this video profiling the 2021 Innovation Fund winners!

Send Me Alerts About The Innovation Fund

Recent Innovation Fund Winners

Congratulations to our 2021 innovators!

Los Deliveristas Unidos

Los Deliveristas Unidos

a rapidly expanding collective of app-based food delivery workers in New York who are organizing for better working conditions, livable wages, healthy and safe work environments, and pay transparency, while building pathways for worker representation in the app-based delivery industry.

WorkIt Platform

United for Respect Education Fund's WorkIt Platform

is working to catalyze leadership development through technology. The new set of technology tools will help organizers listen and learn from their members, activate users into worker leaders, and spotlight opportunities for deeper engagement. 

Let_s Get Set

Let's Get Set

is a project that guides working mothers on paths to financial security and wealth creation with mobile tools, such as tax preparation and savings support, and coaching tailored to meet their unique financial needs. 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR APPLICANTS

2022 INNOVATION FUND FELLOWSHIP APPLICATIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED IN LATE SUMMER

  • Fellowship Applications Accepted | Summer 2022
  • 2022 Fellows Announced | Fall 2022
  • Initial 6-month Fellowship | Winter-Spring 2023
  • Fellowship Showcase | Summer 2023
  • Recipients of the Full Year of Follow-On Funding Announced | Summer 2023

The following are considered and given priority as applications are evaluated. 

  • Innovators who are from underrepresented backgrounds, especially entrepreneurs who identify as women of color, especially Black and Indigenous women.
  • Innovators with early-stage ideas (idea, solution, pre-pilot) centered around improving the lives of working people in the United States
    • Idea - You’ve identified a critical problem facing workers and now you’re researching whether solutions exist.
    • Solution - You’ve begun honing in on the potential solution you want to develop (product, program, service, tool, strategy, etc.) and are scoping a prototype.
    • Pre-Pilot - You have a solution that you’ve conceptualized/designed a prototype for. Now, you’re seeking partners and seed funding for a future pilot.
  • Innovators with for-profit, Public-benefit (B-Corp), business models, or ideas (including nonprofits) that have a component of independent revenue generation planned/intended.
  • Innovators who need startup capital and technical support, and have ambition for their ideas to be brought to scale.
  • Innovators executing their ideas in cities/states of interest, including Georgia (Atlanta), Louisiana (New Orleans), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), North Carolina (Charlotte), Texas (Houston), Florida (Greater Miami Region), Minnesota (Minneapolis St. Paul), Michigan (Detroit), and the broader South.
  • Innovators executing their ideas in industries/areas of interest, including the gig economy, care economy (homecare, healthcare, childcare), food and hospitality, retail, etc.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

How often does The Workers Lab run the Innovation Fund?
In 2022, we are running one cycle of the Innovation Fund. In the past, we have run up to three cycles in one year.

Who can I contact if I have any questions or need more information?
You can contact innovationfund@theworkerslab.com if you have additional questions.

ELIGIBILITY & APPLICATION

What types of organizations or entities can apply?
Nearly any type of organization or entity is eligible to apply, including:

  • For-profit companies
  • Social enterprises (public-benefit corporations - B-Corps, etc.)
  • Individual Entrepreneurs
  • Co-operatives or other worker-led entities
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Projects that have established a relationship with a fiscal sponsor but are not independent organizations themselves

Can past applicants apply?
Yes, we encourage past applicants to apply unless they have already received an award for the project from The Workers Lab, or were a winner in the most recent cycle of the Innovation Fund.

Are there any geographic restrictions? 
Yes, awards from the Innovation Fund are limited to organizations that have a United States Tax ID or social security number.

Are there any industry/sector restrictions?
No.

Are there any restrictions on the staff or budget size of a project or organization?
No. However, the goal of this fellowship is to invest in early-stage ideas.

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

REVIEW PROCESS

How will I/we be evaluated?
On the “Selection Considerations” 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 fellows primarily based on top scores.

Is there an expectation that the project is self-sustaining or that it becomes incorporated (as a nonprofit, for-profit, etc.) by the end of the grant term?
No. That said, we are especially interested in projects that have thoughtfully considered long-term possibilities for the project, including pathways for independent revenue generation.

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

WINNERS

If selected as a winner, what can I/we use the funds for? Are there any restrictions?
Grant dollars are generally flexible, as long as they are used in support of the proposed project. Winners will be required to provide a final financial report as part of our reporting process. The Workers Lab allows indirect cost rates of up to 15% for any grant recipients.

Outside of the cash prize, what can winners expect from participation in the Innovation Fund?
At The Workers Lab, we are committed to evaluating progress, learning from successes and challenges, and ensuring that we are regularly leveraging our network to amplify the work of our amazing partners while minimizing administrative burden. With that in mind, winners are expected to participate in interim and final check-in calls, support learning outputs, as well as submit a final financial report. The Workers Lab provides mentorship, training, and other forms of organizational support where we can add value.

THE INNOVATION FUND UPDATES