Coming Back in 2021

by Jeshua John, on January 14, 2021 at 9:41 AM

Last September, we put out a call for innovations to support workers in “coming back” stronger from COVID-19 and the myriad of injustices and broken systems that predated the pandemic.

The response to the Fall 2020 cycle of The Innovation Fund was nothing short of amazing: We heard from 558 innovators in seven countries and 46 states across the United States.

We are excited to share our 10 finalists with you below. Each of the outstanding worker leaders has a new idea or innovative approach to strengthen and support the economic comeback of historically underserved workers impacted by the pandemic and systemic injustice. 

Their ideas take on a variety of issues facing workers - access to affordable child care and small business support, to training for green jobs of the future - but the through-line is putting power back in the hands of workers.

On January 21, 2021, at 9 AM PT, all of our finalists will participate in our Finalist Showcase. During this event, they will receive live feedback from participants as they pitch their ideas for a chance to win $150,000 from The Innovation Fund for their projects. For the first time we're opening our showcase to the public. If you are interested in attending, you can RSVP for our Finalist Showcase livestream and watch it all unfold.

The Innovation Fund Fall 2020 Finalists

Read the introduction to each of the finalists below. Then, dive deep into the ideas, innovations, and vision of these exciting leaders at the Finalist Showcase on January 21, 2021. 

Axis Helps


Business ownership can be both empowering and challenging. The need to make technical assistance and financial resources easier to access - especially for small business owners and aspiring small business owners who are also Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) - is clear. Axis Helps works to pair entrepreneurs in South Florida with the available resources that are best for their business venture. The goal: To support BIPOC business ownership and their success.
Connect with Axis Helps:  Website  |   Facebook  |   Twitter  |   Instagram   

California Service Workers' Cooperative



California’s Food Service Industry Workers have suffered tremendously in 2020. In addition to the passing of Prop 22 and other attacks on worker-protections, over one million restaurant workers have now lost their jobs due to COVID-19. One Fair Wage is launching a statewide worker-owned cooperative food hub with delivery that offers equitable employment opportunities, including better wages and working conditions, with the explicit mission of centering worker voices and uniting food service workers throughout CA.
Connect with the California Service Workers' Cooperative:  Website  |   Facebook  |   Twitter  |   Instagram


(Washington, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, California)


Family Child Care Providers (FCCPs) are in almost every neighborhood in the country. They are state-licensed small businesses operating out of homes and largely run by women of color. Through offering culturally and linguistically diverse care, availability on weekends and evenings, and accepting vouchers and subsidies, FCCPs are the most affordable and flexible source of licensed care. Yet, if you have ever tried to find a child care provider, you've likely discovered that existing digital resources fall short. This deficit also affects FCCPs trying to market themselves and maintain full enrollment. In partnership with FCCP unions, Carina has created and launched a secure, scalable, accessible, and accountable child care matching platform. It is currently live in five states and already has over 2,000 participating FCCPs.
Connect with Carina:   Website  |   Facebook   |   LinkedIn

Centro Community Partners



Minority-owned small businesses and minority workers have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, making them the most vulnerable to the financial impacts of this pandemic. As they try to come back, the limited access to technical assistance services and credit is a further compounding factor hurting their small businesses and hindering economic mobility. Using its Centro App as a solution, Centro Community Partners is creating a virtual entrepreneurial ecosystem, connecting entrepreneurs with local business resources, and using its technology to strengthen the small business service capacities within other non-profits. Centro’s goal is to empower minority entrepreneurs in underserved communities to be stronger, healthier, and more financially resilient.
Connect with Centro Community Partners: Website   |   Facebook   |   LinkedIn  |   Instagram 

ChiFresh Kitchen



ChiFresh Kitchen (a fiscally sponsored project of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council) is a Black-owned commercial food service contractor. Structured as a worker cooperative, ChiFresh demonstrates a business development model centered around food justice and sovereignty, where marginalized workers are the primary decision-makers. The five formerly incarcerated co-owners of ChiFresh Kitchen served their first meals as a new business in May of 2020. During the pandemic, ChiFresh has prepared 50,000 fresh, hot, healthy meals for food-insecure residents of Chicago.
Connect with ChiFresh Kitchen: Website   |   Facebook   |   Twitter  |   Instagram 

Driver's Seat Cooperative

(Oregon and Wisconsin)


In today’s gig economy, whoever holds the data holds the power to shape daily work experience, public narrative, and policy. Driver’s Seat Cooperative empowers gig workers like Uber drivers and DoorDash delivery people to use their own data to take back control of their time and earn more for their work. Not only are they enabling workers to collect, analyze, and profit from their own data via the Driver’s Seat mobile app, they are also helping cities and businesses shape the gig economy with transportation, land use, and workforce analytics based on their unique driver-generated datasets.
Connect with Driver's Seat Cooperative: Website   |   Facebook   |   Twitter

Emerging Builders



Founded in 2019, Emerging Builders is a non-profit organization that creates career opportunities for women, Black, and other workers of color in the construction trades. Through its apprenticeship program, it provides the soft skills and job site experience that future construction leaders need to compete and win contracts in Kansas City.
Connect with Emerging Builders: Website   |   Facebook   |   Instagram

Ones Up



Ones Up (a fiscally sponsored project of the Urban Affairs Coalition) empowers local Black and brown youth to transform the social and economic conditions of their communities. Based in Pennsylvania, Ones Up is piloting a career development program for young adults of color that engages them in structured civic engagement. In the program, the young adults gain professional experience and benefit from career counseling, mental and emotional wellness support, and connections to job opportunities.
Connect with Ones Up: Website

Rural Ideas Network

(Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota)


Invigorating rural entrepreneurship doesn't require a complex solution. It's actually pretty simple: rural communities just need the same entrepreneurial resources and supports that exist in larger cities to remain competitive. What's tricky is figuring out how to actually deliver these solutions to rural communities with small populations and limited resources. Rural Ideas Network created "Entrepreneur Labs" to spark growth through coaching, peer learning, and access to industry experts. Following an initial successful pilot, the online support network is ready to expand "Entrepreneur Labs'' to support entrepreneurial success in more rural communities across the U.S.
Connect with Rural Ideas Network: Website

Warehouse Worker Resource Center



Warehouse Worker Resource Center (WWRC) has been organizing, educating, and advocating for workers in the warehouse industry in the Inland Empire and Southern California since 2011. As California commits to zero-emission goals, WWRC sees an opportunity for new green jobs. Collaborating with union partners and community organizations, WWRC wants to train working-class residents of the Inland Empire (San Bernardino, California) for high-paying, sustainable jobs installing, maintaining, and operating new zero-emission logistics technologies.
Connect with Warehouse Worker Resource Center: Website   |   Facebook   |   Twitter  |   Instagram 

Watch the Finalist Showcase 

For the first time, we're inviting the public to watch the upcoming Finalist Showcase live. Register below to receive the link to stream the event. We will select winners shortly after the event and we will announce them in February. 


Topics: The Innovation Fund