The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Support.


The Fall 2020 cycle of The Innovation Fund is now open. Applications must be submitted by October 14, 2020. Subscribe to receive updates about this and future cycles of The Innovation Fund.

The Innovation Fund is The Workers Lab's signature program. We invest in leaders who are ready to move their ideas forward, to learn, and share their learnings so that others can build on them.

The Innovation Fund award winners receive $150,000 and 12 months of support to test their ideas. Anyone can apply.

Coming Back: The Innovation Fund Fall 2020

This cycle comes at a time when lots of people are trying to come back - to school or work, or from taking some time off, if they're lucky. For many workers, the notion of coming back was never a notion at all. They had no choice but to keep going to work to support their families and our communities. This cycle is aimed at supporting them.

We will be accepting applications from every community in the country, and we're especially interested in seeding innovation from under-resourced areas, rural areas, and California's Inland Empire and Central Valley regions. 

Broad Call. Focused Impact.

We are open to a range of ideas focused on the various kinds of that support workers, their families, and communities need to come back stronger. We are particularly interested in new ideas that promote quality jobs and shared prosperity. As always, we especially want to uncover new ideas for and from workers in communities of color. This means workers and worker leaders, local and community leaders, pastors and priests, teachers and lawyers, entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Submissions sought for ideas that:

  • Rebuild businesses by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)
  • Stimulate quality jobs everywhere, especially in rural communities
  • Rethink or expand the social contract with workers, including public benefits, and more

At The Workers Lab, our purpose is to give new ideas about increasing worker power a chance to succeed and flourish, and new ideas for workers need a chance now, perhaps more than ever before. If you, or someone you know, has an idea to help workers come back stronger than before, please apply.

Open Call

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


Apply Now

Not ready to apply?

Learn More

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




Learn More



Close | OCTOBER 14 at 11:59 pm PT


Sign up for a 15-minute appointment during the following times.

SEPTEMBER 25 | 9:00 am - 12:00 pm PT
OCTOBER 2 | 9:00 am – 12:00 pm PT
OCTOBER 9 | 9:00 am – 12:00 pm PT
Self-schedule using this Google calendar


OCTOBER 1 | 12:00 - 1:00 pm PT
OCTOBER 7 | 9:00 - 10:00 am PT
Register for a Webinar


Winners Announced | Fall 2020


  • 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 helping workers come back stronger.
  • This project outlines clear S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • This team has the skills and experience needed to successfully execute this project.


  • This project has thoughtfully considered how to maximize The 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.


  • Showcase pitch.
  • Q&A with TWL Board of Directors.



What types of organizations or entities can apply?

  • Non-profit organizations or fiscally sponsored projects
  • Public sector entities 
  • For-profit and/or social enterprises

Can past applicants apply?
Yes, we encourage past applicants to apply unless they received an award in the Spring 2020 cycle.

Are there any geographic restrictions? 
We remain open to considering applications from the United States and abroad, although we have a preference for applicants focusing on issues that impact workers in the U.S. For this cycle, we are especially interested in surfacing ideas from underserved areas including rural communities and applicants focused on California's Inland Empire and Central Valley.

Are there any industry/sector restrictions?

Are there any restrictions on the staff or budget size of a project or organization?

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


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 winners of The Innovation Fund.


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

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. 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 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. 


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?
You can contact if you have additional questions.


Ready To Get Started?

Apply Now

You can also download the application questions.

Spring 2020 Winners

Congratulations to our most recent innovators.

The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program: Winner of Spring 2020

The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program

California has a wildfire labor shortage. To fill the gap, the state relies on an incarcerated labor force obtained through "Fire Camps." Using winnings from The Investment Fund, The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program will scale a workforce development model that trains and connects former fire camp workers to viable careers.

FreeFrom: Winner of Spring 2020


FreeFrom believes you shouldn't have to take vacation time to seek refuge from domestic abuse. Using $150,000 won during The Innovation Fund's Spring 2020 cycle, FreeFrom will pilot a paid leave and workplace support program tailored to survivor needs for flexibility, privacy, and confidentiality.

Leap Fund: Winner of Spring 2020

Leap Fund

Many low-income workers decide not to take pay raises, increase hours at work, or pursue career advancement because of the “benefits cliff." Leap Fund will use its investment from The Innovation Fund to expand use of a financial product that saves low-income workers’ pay increases until the cliff is cleared.