The Innovation Fund

Your Idea. Our Support.


Congratulations to the winners of the Spring 2020 cycle: The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, FreeFrom, and Leap Fund! Read more about them below.

The COVID-19 global 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.

The Workers Lab exists because funding for new ideas is difficult to come by, especially innovative ideas that work for working people. We created The Innovation Fund, our signature program, to invest in leaders who are ready to put their ideas to the test, 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. We provide funding to:

  • Community-based organizations
  • Non-profits
  • Co-ops
  • Social entrepreneurs
  • Public and private sector leaders

If you, or someone you know, has an idea to improve workers' lives, please sign up to receive alerts for the next open call for applications.

Send Me Updates about The Innovation Fund



We will begin accepting applications for our summer and fall cycles late July. Be sure to subscribe to our updates to receive an update on exact dates!


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 May 4, 2020
Semi-Finalist Additional Information Due | May 15, 2020


Finalists Announced | May 28, 2020
Finalist Virtual Showcase | June 8th - June 17, 2020


Winners Announced | by the end of June 2020


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.


  • 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 partner.



  • 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.



If you are selected as a finalist, a senior member of your project team will be required to participate in The  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.


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 (Fall 2019) cycle.

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 U.S. tax identification number.

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 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  host The Innovation Finalist Showcase virtually.  

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.

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. 


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.

Spring 2020 Winners

Congratulations to our most recent innovators.


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 Innovation 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 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

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 allows workers to defer their income until they earn enough to replace what they'll lose in benefits.