The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Investment.

Our 2021 Innovation Fund Application Cycle has closed.

If you submitted an application by the July 12, 2021 deadline, you will receive more information on the status of your submission by early August.

If you weren't able to submit an application this cycle and have an innovative way to solve problems facing workers or if you know someone who does, please sign up to receive alerts about the Innovation Fund.

You'll be one of the first to learn about our 2022 application cycle. 

The Workers Lab is always searching for innovators with new ideas about how to transform systems and structures to make all workers safe, healthy, secure, and free.

Our purpose at The Workers Lab is to give new ideas for workers a chance to succeed and flourish. 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. This cycle, we're reviewing applications from innovators with new ideas about how to transform systems and structures to make all workers safe, healthy, secure, and free. We will award grants of up to $150,000. In addition to receiving funding to give their new idea a chance to succeed, awardees will receive mentorship, training, and organizational support where The Workers Lab can add value. Recipients will be announced later this fall. Nearly every type of organization or entity is eligible to apply - from nonprofits and for-profits to public sector entities and co-ops. 

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innovations we invest in address immediate and structural problems that exist because our systems and structures are outdated and weren’t created with all workers in mind.

Send Me Alerts About The Innovation Fund

Recent Innovation Fund Winners

Congratulations to our most recent innovators!

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Carina

Even before the pandemic, the child care industry was in dire need of increased accessibility, accountability, and stability. As COVID-19 continues, this need has become critical as family child care providers (FCCPs), run predominantly by women of color, face closures to their businesses while parents, especially those of low-income families of color, struggle to find care and stay working. Carina is scaling a secure, scalable, accessible, and accountable child care matching platform in English and Spanish. This service will connect families in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington with real-time openings at unionized family FCCPs.

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Driver’s Seat Cooperative

Gig workers generate troves of valuable data that could be used for their individual and collective benefit - if only they could see and use their data the way gig platform owners do. Because of COVID-19, the nature of gig work is shifting rapidly and unemployed low-wage workers are increasingly turning to gig work for survival. Driver's Seat Cooperative is piloting a mobile app, starting in Oregon and Wisconsin, that puts the power of data in the hands of gig workers so they can drive decisions that are best for them, while also helping cities and businesses shape the gig economy with transportation, land use, and workforce analytics based on their unique driver-generated datasets.

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Warehouse Worker Resource Center

Logistics work has never had a bigger moment than amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the warehouse industry grows more critical, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center (WWRC) in San Bernardino, wants to see the workers benefit from their increased importance. In California, where climate change legislation is creating new zero-emissions logistics standards, WWRC sees an opportunity to re-center workers in the "future of work" conversations. Their winning pre-pilot idea is to train displaced workers to take new, quality careers in green logistics.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR APPLICANTS

2021 INNOVATION FUND APPLICATIONS WERE ACCEPTED JUNE 1 - JULY 12


Round One Application Portal Closed | July 12, 2021

Semi-Finals | August 23 - September 20, 2021

Finals | October 15 - November 12, 2021

Winners Announced | By December 7, 2021

ROUND ONE

  • The project addresses a critical problem facing workers today.
  • The project proposes a new or innovative solution about how to transform systems or structures to make all workers safe, healthy, secure, or free.
  • The team has a clear approach to including workers in the design and development of the project.
  • The team has demonstrated in-depth thinking about the long-term possibilities for the project.

SEMI-FINALS

  • The team understands potential gaps or barriers for accomplishing their project.
  • The project outlines clear S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • The team has thoughtfully considered how to maximize the Innovation Fund dollars and is actively or creatively raising new funding sources to advance their project.
  • The project has a strong process for continuous learning and generating real-time insights.
  • The team can convey a clear and compelling pitch by video. We're looking for compelling content, not video quality.

FINALS

  • The team participates in preparation sessions with The Workers Lab team.
  • The team participates in The Workers Lab's live showcase and provides a pitch by webinar to a variety of TWL stakeholders and the public.
  • The team participates in a Q&A session with The Workers Lab Board of Directors.

ELIGIBILITY & APPLICATION

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

  • Non-profit organizations
  • Public sector entities
  • Co-operatives or other worker-led entities
  • For-profit companies
  • Social enterprises
  • 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.

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 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.

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 interim and final financial reports (in addition to other reporting requirements for learning) 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 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 financial reports. The Workers Lab provides mentorship, training, and other forms of organizational support where we can add value. 

GENERAL QUESTIONS

How often does The Workers Lab run the Innovation Fund?
In 2021, 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.

THE INNOVATION FUND UPDATES