Fellowship Program

our fellowships help innovators build high-impact products for low-income Americans.

The Fellowship

Blue Ridge Labs’ 12-week fellowship offers top talent the opportunity to create products for communities that are traditionally overlooked by technology. By taking a user-centered approach and pushing our teams to iterate quickly and cheaply, we aim to build products that really make a difference.

We believe great products are born when innovators have the opportunity to work closely with their users, and our programs tap into a network of relationships built by our parent foundations to provide unparalleled access to underserved individuals around New York.

Last year, our fellows came from Facebook, Adobe, Fast Company, and the Daily Beast. They’d launched tech companies, clothing lines, and non-profits before coming together to explore the challenges faced by domestic workers, community college students, and the unbanked. Of the 5 great products developed over the summer, 4 are still going strong.

Fellows can apply as individuals or as teams. In either case we look for each participant to fill one of three roles. Great candidates will bring not only a great track record in their area expertise, but also courage, empathy, and a love of fast-paced, collaborative environments. If that sounds like you, we’d love for you to join us!

We’re looking for:

Product

Resourceful entrepreneurs who tackle big problems quickly.

Apply Here
Design

Imaginative UX/UI experts who can visualize and delight.

Apply Here
Engineering

Thoughtful full-stack builders who code and test with care.

Apply Here

How does it work?

Our fellowship teams work full-time for 12 weeks out of our co-working space in Brooklyn. You’ll spend the first month immersed in underserved communities around the city, learning more about the challenges they face and where technology could make a difference. The next two months are all about building and testing possible solutions, while at the same time starting to think about how to take your ideas to scale.

At the end of the summer, you’ll present your product to a crowd that includes VCs, foundations, government agencies, and members of the communities that supported your work for a chance to win additional funding.

All of our fellows receive access to expert mentors, support from our team, and an honorarium to cover their bills.

More Questions?

For more information on the fellowship or the application process, please see our Frequently Asked Questions

Key Dates

  • Program dates: June 1 – August 21
  • Applications close: April 3
  • Finalist workshops: April 11 or April 19

The Challenges

In 2015, we’re giving fellows two options: Propose a topic you’re passionate about, or tackle one of the two areas where we believe there are high potential opportunities for technology to make a real difference. Click on the icons below to learn more about the issue areas we selected and how you can suggest your own.

The Informal Economy

 

Tens of millions of Americans participate in the informal economy whether by working as day laborers, running “side gigs” to supplement income, or otherwise earning money outside of formal business institutions. In fact, ~9% of all economic activity in the US takes place informally and most of this activity is concentrated within low-income communities.

There are an additional ~18 million workers taking advantage of the emergent “sharing economy” created by the likes of Uber and Homejoy and estimates suggest that independent workers will comprise 50% of the US workforce by the year 2020. This workforce, however, often excludes immigrants who face language and regulatory barriers despite having the appropriate skill sets.

While non-standard or independent work can be attractive due to the ease of entry and flexibility, workers rarely receive any benefits or protections against wage floors, nefarious employers, or sub-par working conditions. Did you know:

  • 48% of domestic workers make an hourly wage below what is needed to sufficiently support a family
  • In low-wage labor markets, wage theft is costing workers more than $50 billion every year
  • 50% of workers making at or below the minimum wage are under the age of 25, the age group with the highest levels of digital literacy
  • Current sharing platforms take anywhere between 10-50% of workers’ upfront wages

We believe there are ways technology can help low-income individuals better utilize informal or shared marketplaces, and so in 2015 we’re asking how we might...

  • …empower low-income workers to more effectively and sustainably utilize the opportunities presented by the new "sharing economy"
  • …help micropreneurs with viable “side gigs” leverage their skills and networks to maximize their income, and
  • ...support immigrants trying to capitalize on the skills gained outside the US to achieve greater financial stability for themselves and their families
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The Informal Economy

The Informal Economy

 

Out-of-School Learning

 

There are more than 40 million children across the US participating in preschool, elementary, and middle school programs, and we know their time outside the classroom - whether in the preschool years or over summer vacation - has a meaningful impact on their learning.

On average, low-income students lose two months of reading and spelling progress over the summer, while their middle-income peers actually make gains. This is just one example of how the opportunity gap manifests as an achievement gap - an inequity that’s all the more troubling as it can persist and even compound over time.

Low-income families face resource constraints that leave them with many fewer quality options when it comes to outside the classroom care. Did you know:

  • By age 3, a child from a family on welfare has heard 30 million fewer words than a child from an upper-income family
  • High-income youth are 5x more likely to attend summer camp than their low-income counterparts and and 2x more likely to attend after school programs
  • Every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood programs is estimated to return $4-9 to society in the form of higher wages, lower crime, and better health outcomes

We believe there are ways technology can help ensure all families have access to high quality care, and so in 2015 we’re asking how we might:

  • ...empower and equip informal and home-based providers to increase the supply and quality of affordable childcare options
  • ...expand the number and diversity of educational programs that are accessible to low-income students and their families
  • ...help the many people and programs who contribute to a child’s care and development coordinate and communicate more effectively
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Out-of-School Learning

Out-of-School Learning

 

Choose Another Area

Suggest an area to investigate

If you're passionate about a challenge faced by under-served New Yorkers that doesn't fit into one of our focus areas, we'd love to hear why you think it would be a good fit for our fellowship.

What are we looking for? Topics where technology has the potential to address an issue that's particularly important to low-income Americans. But also where there's an opportunity for you (with our help!) to set up multiple touch-points with people who are actively facing the challenge you want to tackle over the course of the summer. As an example, no one wants to talk about filing their taxes in July...

We'll also want to know why this topic matters to you, what ideas you have about what you might build over the summer, and where those ideas came from.

There's a separate field in our application for you to pitch us on your idea, so pick the role that's best for you and tell us all about it.

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Choose Another Area

Choose Another Area

Suggest an area to investigate