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Sherrell Dorsey headshot

Can this New Business Accelerator Disrupt Poverty with Entrepreneurship?

By Sherrell Dorsey

It often seems the tech industry has become nothing short of a never-ending Google alert, providing insight into the ubiquitous trends of the latest product, service or app that will re-shape society for the better.

As billion-dollar valuations crown the next tech sensation fueled by on-demand services and flexible “jobs," the pegging question to increasing innovation is whether or not the changing world of work is truly benefiting society for the long haul. Or at minimum, the large portion of society that rests on the margins of unsustainable minimum-wage jobs and app-fueled contract work that provides little protections for those catering to our 21st century inconveniences.

Arguably, the growing digital division and unmet needs of millions of Americans living below the poverty line intersects with the very real opportunity for entrepreneurs to challenge these issues with tangible and scalable solutions.

Enter the Workers Lab: a startup accelerator that seeks to invest in organizing strategies, business models and platforms that will lift wages and transform the lives of U.S. workers.

The Oakland, California-based organization is rolling up its sleeves with a PhD at its helm, a few well-heeled partners and lots of Silicon-Valley know-how to merge innovation and social impact work into alignment with one goal: to disrupt poverty.

“We must invest in breakthrough tactics to win economic justice, especially in fast growing, low-wage industries that will soon employ the majority of Americans,” shares Carmen Rojas, CEO of the Workers Lab.

The Workers Lab identifies three distinct filtering criteria in which it will support projects and ventures that develop strategies for re-inventing a new U.S. middle-class workforce:

  • Generate the necessary economic power to raise wages and economic standards for low-wage workers

  • Achieve sufficient scale to impact workers across sectors, industries and geographies

  • Realize self-sufficient revenue models.

"When these conditions are met, corporations and revenue-generating ventures experience less employee turnover and have increased customer loyalty," Rojas told Fast Company. "This is great for their corporations as well as for our economy."

Current strategic partners and advisors to the the Workers Lab include an amalgamation of banks, foundations, unions and political parties. The Ford Foundation, Amalgamated Bank and Kapor Capital don the list of just a few partners working to help disrupt the impacts of low-wage jobs.

Through the program, organizers, entrepreneurs and leaders will be paired with advisors and mentors that will provide the necessary support to turn ideas into reality. Though not stated in detail, access to funding and resources will also play a factor in helping projects scale.

Still in its infancy, the Workers Lab could prove to be a successful starting point for the role of incubators in the future of challenging poverty and equity through the lens of entrepreneurship. It remains unclear, however, the long-term role the incubator will play in developing the ventures birthed from this program and what metrics will be evaluated to determine the impact of developed solutions.

Applications for the lab’s Summer Institute program, held in Oakland, California from July 28 to July 30, are now being accepted until June 9. The three-day session offers an introduction to business planning and high-level coaching to help entrepreneurs sharpen their business plan.

Image credit: The Workers Lab

Sherrell Dorsey headshot

Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.

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