Catalyst FAQ



What sorts of ideas and products are not good fits?

  • Volunteer matching platforms
  • Primarily serving the developing world
  • Fundraising/crowdfunding platforms
  • Products and services for foundations and funders
  • Well established and well funded organizations
  • Political Action/Activism

What makes a good Catalyst team?

  • At the “Duct tape and glue” version of product
  • Real feedback and validation from users
  • Launched product into the world
  • Poverty fighting
  • Serves low income people directly

I am not yet incorporated, can I apply?

Yes! Catalyst is specifically designed to help people form organizations.

Do I have to be building a technology venture to apply?

Yes. Much of the programming support we provide is specifically aimed at teams that are using technology to scale. This doesn’t mean your product or service has to be solely technology-based – for example, you can also provide direct service – but technology has to be a central part of the solution.

Some examples of teams we have funded in the past that use technology as only one element of their model are Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, which uses a tech platform to match and schedule volunteers who manually pick up excess food and deliver it to shelters and Upsolve, which uses technology to help people fill out bankruptcy forms that are then reviewed by an attorney.

Is Catalyst a full-time program?

Yes. If accepted, we expect that a minimum of one member of your team will be working on your venture full-time. We prefer teams with more than one full-time founder.

Regardless of numbers, we expect that if you are New York-based your full-time staff will work out of our offices at 150 Court St in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. If you’re based elsewhere, you must commit to sending at least one full-time team member to all of the required program sessions.

How is the $60,000 in funding structured?

For non-profit organizations, our funding operates like any other grant. For for-profits, Catalyst funding is provided as a recoverable grant. That means that our funding converts to no-interest debt if and only if the organization hits a pre-set revenue or fundraising milestone. In addition to this debt repayment, for-profit organizations give Robin Hood the right to participate in future funding rounds. We also ask our for-profit founders to pledge that they will make a meaningful gift to the Robin Hood foundation in the event that they are personally financially successful in their ventures.

If the team has incorporated, the funds will be distributed to the organization. If not, it will be split equally between the team members who are full-time participants in the program.

In addition to the team funding mentioned above, each full-time participating team member can claim up to $500/month in health insurance reimbursements. We also provide a separate, dedicated research budget for user testing with our Design Insight Group as well as a dedicated marketing budget.

If you have further questions about our funding structure, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Do you accept both non-profit and for-profit social ventures?

Yes, as long as the team is aligned with our mission to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers. We also accept teams that have yet to decide on how they plan to incorporate and want to use this time to explore different structures and make that decision.

Do you take equity in the for-profits who participate in the program?

Yes. We ask all for-profit participants to donate 1% in equity warrants to Robin Hood as part of their first valued funding round. We structure this donation through the Pledge 1% initiative, which was founded by Salesforce, Atlassian, and Rally.

If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Are there specific topics teams must be working on to apply for Catalyst?

Yes and no. Catalyst caters to teams working in any vertical, as long as the product aims to differentially improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers and has a technology component. This means we don’t fund ventures that are primarily focused on populations overseas or those whose primary benefits accrue to higher-income households.

I’m not in New York, can I still participate in Catalyst?

For Catalyst, we prefer that at least one team member works full-time out of our co-working space at 150 Court St. in Brooklyn. However, we do consider teams that are based outside of New York City provided they can commit to sending at least one full-time team member to all of the program sessions.

Group program sessions occur roughly bi-weekly over the duration of the six months – typically on Thursdays and Fridays. For more information on the program calendar for this year, please feel free to reach out.

I’m a sole founder. Can I apply?

Yes, though you should be sure to address in your application how you plan to effectively meet the talent needs of your organization over the six months of the program. We provide teams with support to recruit and select talent throughout the program, but you should not assume that this will be sufficient to meet all of your human capital needs.

My idea focuses solely on international challenges. Can I apply?

No. Catalyst targets ventures that focus on low-income Americans with a particular emphasis on New York City.

I am already incorporated. Can I apply?


I have more than one idea for a social venture. Can I submit both?

No. We are looking for teams that are committed to one idea and are looking to grow it into a financially sustainable organization. 

I have another question. How can I learn more?

Come to an Open House or check out one of our weekly webinars. You can find details on both on our Events page. You can also e-mail us at