What our 2023 Innovation Fund Fellows are Learning

by Jeshua John, on August 31, 2023 at 11:05 AM

The Workers Lab is in the middle of our 2023 Innovation Fund Fellowship and we wanted to share what our fellows are learning.

In December 2022, The Workers Lab invited innovators to submit ideas focused on modernizing and making our country’s services for workers more inclusive. We specifically sought ideas from entrepreneurs of color and women who typically receive only a tiny fraction, less than 2 percent, of early investment enjoyed by other entrepreneurs. In total, we received 415 applications from 10 countries, 47 U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. After 12 weeks of intensive review, where applications were read up to five times by different reviewers, we narrowed the pool of applicants down to six fellows, who are now participating in a four-month fellowship. You can learn about the 2023 Innovation Fund Fellows in this announcement.

Our fellows tell a story of urgent and emerging needs for workers, such as the increasing gap in demand for healthcare workers, as well as the provision of culturally relevant and equitable care; the need for more and better systems of restorative justice and equity for returning citizens; non-extractive spaces for entrepreneurs and small businesses; guaranteed dignity for gig and flexible workers; better support systems and service delivery for America's working poor; and a stronger foundation for the publishing ecosystem, especially at a time where books and their authors are under attack. The majority of our Innovation Fund fellows are working with low-wage workers which are 44% of all U.S. workers, earning a median of $10.22 per hour, with the majority being Black and Hispanic/Latino.

The fellowship is designed to provide training, mentorship, and customized support for our fellows, helping their ideas come to life and prepare them for larger investments. Fellows will do a deep dive on a range of topics aimed at helping them develop their stories as they scale their ideas. The sessions are flexible and customized based on immediate and emerging needs of our fellows, but generally include the following focus areas:

  • My "why" to a business idea: Fellows will dive deep into their visions, discuss how to cultivate sustainable businesses, begin exploring ideas for scaling impact, and identify the leadership skills necessary to execute their ideas. 
  • Those around me: From there, fellows will explore how to build fruitful relationships that they can leverage for success and identify the pieces of their business that will be most compelling to funders and investors so they can leverage their stories and relationships into results. 
  • The world we live in: Fellows will then engage in conversation about local, national, and global trends that might impact their businesses, strategize on how and when to join the broader conversation as well as how to best position their business in those conversations and related legislation.  
  • What the future holds: To wrap up, fellows will discuss how the strategic message, relationship-building, and fundraising fold into sustainability, and they will understand the power of storytelling and work on how to build a narrative that conveys their own stories. 

The fellowship will run through the fall, with fellows receiving a monthly stipend of $5,000 and participating in 8-10 hours of programming per month. At the end of the fellowship, one to three final Innovation Fund winners will be selected. They will receive a larger investment of up to $200,000 for their ideas and another full year of mentorship and support. Stay tuned to our website to learn more about this program and who this year’s winners will be.

Topics: The Innovation Fund