The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Investment.

Our purpose at The Workers Lab is to give new ideas for and with workers a chance to succeed. Our Innovation Fund is one of the ways we achieve this purpose. It’s how we invest in innovators and entrepreneurs who are serving workers and addressing the challenges faced by workers.

Since 2014, the Innovation Fund has invested $5.7 million in 77 innovators.

We understand that bringing transformative ideas for and with workers to fruition requires investment. Far too many worker-led ideas, especially those by entrepreneurs of color and women, never see the light of day since they historically receive only a tiny fraction of the early investment enjoyed by others. The Workers Lab is changing that. The ideas we invest in are collectively making the ways our country serves workers more modern and inclusive to ensure that every worker is safe, healthy, secure, and has power. 

Details regarding our 2022/2023 Innovation Fund cycle:

  • Entrepreneurs of color and women are highly encouraged to apply for this cycle. 
  • Applications will be accepted between December 2022 and March 2023. 
  • Up to six fellows will be selected from the application pool to participate in a four-month program designed to provide training, mentorship, and customized support that brings their idea to life and sets them up for larger-scale investment. Fellows will receive a stipend of $5,000 per month and will participate in programming for 8-10 hours per month. 
  • At the end of the four-month fellowship, at least one and up to three final Innovation Fund winners will be selected to receive a larger investment of up to $200,000 in their idea, as well as another full year of mentorship and support.

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. We anticipate announcing winners in spring 2023.

Check out this video profiling the 2021 Innovation Fund winners!

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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

  • Applications accepted | December 8, 2022 - March 27, 2023
  • Fellows announced | May 2023
  • Four-month fellowship program | June - September 2023
  • Final winners announced | November 2023
  • Winners receive continued support and mentorship | Through December 2024

The following are considered as applications are evaluated:

  • Innovators who are from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented among those who receive venture capital and startup funding, especially entrepreneurs who identify as women of color.
  • Innovators with early-stage ideas (idea, solution, pre-pilot) centered around making the ways our country serves workers more modern and inclusive.
    • 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 plans for diversified future revenue streams that support long-term sustainability.
  • Innovators who need startup capital and technical support, and have ambition for their ideas to be brought to scale.

Additionally, we’ve identified the following areas of interest and encourage applicants who are serving workers in: 

  • Key states where startup funding for worker-innovators is lacking including but not limited to, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Texas, Florida, and the broader South.
  • Key industries and subsets of the economy where there are fewer supports for workers, including but not limited to gig work, care (homecare, healthcare, childcare), as well as climate (energy and the environment).

GENERAL QUESTIONS

How often does The Workers Lab run the Innovation Fund?
In 2022/2023, 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