Frequently Asked Questions

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General

Different Deadline For Experts?

We have extended the application period for Experts until March 6th.

Engineers, designers, and product managers deadline will remain February 27th.

I’m looking for grant money, can you help?

Blue Ridge Labs@Robin Hood is an operating initiative and as such only provides grants to participants in our Fellowship and Catalyst programs.

Robin Hood, our parent organization, does provide grants to poverty-fighting organizations that are direct service providers operating in the five boroughs of New York City. If you are interested in receiving funding from Robin Hood, please read Get Funding. For information about open positions at Robin Hood or at our grantees, please refer to our Career Opportunities. If you are an individual seeking assistance from one of our Single Stop sites, please call 212-480-2870.

Is technology the solution? These are pretty big problems.

We don’t believe technology is a silver bullet, and a lot of the challenges faced by low-income Americans have critical interpersonal and organizational components that tech alone cannot solve. However, we do think there are a myriad of ways technology can help improve people’s day-to-day lives in a meaningful way, and that solving some of those smaller problems will help us better understand how to tackle the big ones.

What’s unique about what you’re doing?

There are a lot of organizations doing great work around technology for social good. What makes us unique is our commitment to helping our fellows and teams put the user first and our focus on rapid testing and iteration. We aren’t prescriptively saying, “technology x is the way to solve problem y”, instead, we’re trusting that as people in our programs spend time interacting with users, collecting data points, and experimenting with new approaches that they’ll develop a better understanding of exactly what’s not working about our existing systems and if and how technology could help.

Are there other ways I can get involved?

At the moment, we only support social innovators through our Fellowship and Catalyst Programs.

If neither of these are a good fit, we have a jobs board for positions we’d love for you to consider both at Robin Hood and at organizations that we think are doing fantastic work.

Finally, we’re always looking to meet more people who care about the intersection of technology and social impact and find ways to connect them to the broader Blue Ridge Labs community. Sign up for our mailing list for invites to our Open Houses and program events.

Can you help me or my organization build an App?

At the Labs, we run two programs: The Fellowship and our tech incubator,Catalyst. Outside of these two programs, we do occassionally provide advice to non-profits and social ventures about how best to achieve your goals with technology. Feel free to reach out to us at BlueRidgeLabs@robinhood.org

Fellowship

Different Deadline For Experts?

We have extended the application period for Experts until March 6th.

Engineers, designers, and product managers deadline will remain February 27th.

Webinars and Open House?

We will be hosting weekly webinars every Thursday at 12:00pm EST through March 17th, as well as an after work webinar on Wednesday, March 9th at 5:30pm EST. These will explain more about how our Fellowship works and answer questions prospective fellows might have. You can register for our webinars here

Additionally, there will be an informational Open House at our offices at 150 Court st. 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201 on March 3, 6pm. Please RSVP here

Is the Fellowship a full-time role?

Yes, we’re looking for people who can work with us full-time. The 2016 Summer Fellowship is split into two phases, a two month Research Phase followed by a three month Build Sprint. You can apply to join us only for the two month Research Phase, though the Research-only spots are extremely limited and priority will be given to applicants in the Expert track.

If you’re currently employed, we’re happy to chat about setting this up as an externship if that’s something your employer would support.

What is the Fellowship stipend?

Fellows joining us for the entire program will receive a stipend of $22,000. Fellows joining for only the Research Phase will receive $10,000. In addition to their individual stipends each team of fellows will receive a small budget to develop their products, including funding for direct user research.

What are the questions on the application form?

  • What is your name?
  • What email address is best for you?
  • What is your phone number?
  • Please provide us a link to your portfolio, linkedin, github or personal website.
  • Here’s another place you can provide a link to your bio, about.me page, etc.
  • Why are you interested in being a fellow? 500 words or less
  • Talk to us about something you’ve helped create. Where did the idea come from? Why does it excite you? What were the highs and lows in the development process? 500 words or less
  • Tell us about a time you had to understand a problem from a perspective that was different than your own. What did you learn? 500 words or less
  • Tell us about a time you experienced a serious setback – how did you overcome it? 500 words or less
  • Why are you committed to working on the challenge area? 500 words or less
  • What role do you see yourself filling? Engineer, Designer, Product Manager, Expert?
  • Are you interested in joining us for only the two month Research Phase or the whole five month fellowship?

What do you mean by “Expert”?

By “Expert” we truly mean anyone who has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by seniors and their caregivers. Whether it be academic, professional, or through lived experience, if you have an understanding of the barriers and inefficiencies seniors and their caregivers come up against in their daily lived experience, you are an expert.

Why five months?

It’s a balance. We want to make sure there’s enough time to get to know a community, generate an idea, build a working MVP, and get it in the users’ hands. But we don’t want the commitment to be too daunting. We recognize it’s tight, but we’re confident our fellows will be able to develop a user-tested MVP in this time frame.

Tell me more about the Research-only (two month) option

We recognize that participating in the Fellowship bears a significant opportunity cost for many of our fellows, and we don’t want to allow logistical or financial constraints to prevent strong candidates from joining us. As a result, this year we will offer a very limited number of fellows the opportunity to participate in just the Research Phase – which wraps up on June 29th. Preference for these spots will be given to applicants from the Expert track.

If you choose to participate for only the Research Phase, there will be opportunities for you to continue to engage with the rest of the class during the remaining Build Sprint, including the possibility of providing part-time support or advice to one or more of the Build teams. And of course you’ll be invited to all program events, including our end-of-program Product Showcase, and treated as a full member of our alumni community.

How did you pick the Fellowship challenge for this year?

We think great challenges meet four criteria:

1. There is a substantial need for new poverty-fighting solutions in a particular space and technology has the potential to be a powerful lever

2. The topic is well-suited to our research and feedback-driven approach in that there will be repeated opportunities for testing during the duration of the Fellowship

3. We can provide a high level of community access and advice and support from key experts and partners, and

4. There are strategic reasons (e.g. current events, opportunities for collaboration with other initiatives, etc.) to tackle the challenge now

With these criteria in mind, we work with the Program team at Robin Hood to generate, screen, and diligence a long list of topics before making a final selection.

What if I want to work on a different topic?

We are only focusing on a single challenge topic this summer in order to be able to focus our time and effort at providing the highest quality research, expertise and mentorship for our fellows. We ask that all applicants be committed to working on the challenge topic during the course of the Fellowship. For more on our reasoning, check out this post: Fellowship 2.0.

Do I need to already have a team to apply?

No. Most of our fellows apply as individuals and as part of the Fellowship process we’ll help you match up with other fellows whose experience complements yours. All applications will be evaluated individually.

Can I apply with a team or a friend?

We evaluate all applicants individually, however if you have a team or friend who would also make great fellows we encourage everyone to apply.

How will teams be formed?

During the Research Phase, you will be working with the entire cohort – often in small, rotating groups – to research, test, and validate ideas and insights. This will ideally give you a chance to work with and get to know each member of the cohort.

At the end of the Research Phase fellows will commit to a specific concept they want to pursue during the Build Sprint as well as a group of 1-3 teammates they plan to work with. This means you will be choosing your own teams, and we’ll provide support to facilitate this process.

I already have a social venture, can I apply?

We do not accept applications from existing social ventures for the Fellowship, as the focus of the program is on user-driven design, prototyping, and MVP development. We encourage teams who have already launched a product into the market to apply for our Catalyst program in the fall, which is specifically designed to aid early stage organizations to build a fully-functional product, develop market traction, and lay the foundations for a viable operating structure and a sound social impact model.

What will happen with products afterward?

We believe there are many acceptable paths for taking a great product idea to scale. Some of our alumni have spun out as new for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. Others have decided to pass their technology to non-profit partners to build in-house. Still others have chosen to open source their work in the hopes it can be built upon by a broader community.

Whichever path your team decides to take, you’ll end the Fellowship by presenting to the broader Labs community and we will help you identify the next set of resources.

Who owns the IP?

You do. At the end of the Fellowship, most teams either move forward in some capacity with the products they have designed and developed or hand the IP off to partner organizations to continue to build out internally. Either way, you and your team will have the freedom to decide what’s best. The one place this isn’t true is with interview notes and verbal reports from community-based research conversations, which we ask teams to contribute back to the Labs so that we can incorporate these lessons into future problem briefs and research projects.

Do you take equity in the for-profits that spin out of the program?

Nope. We thought about this one long and hard and decided that equity positions would create a set of incentives that were misaligned with many of our other goals. We do, however, expect all of our successful teams to pay our investment forward and encourage them to do so in a variety of ways.

How will I start to understand potential users?

You’ll kick things off with an intensive round of immersion and shadowing a wide range of community members. You’ll meet people in their homes, watch them go about their routine, ask them questions about different parts of their lives, and learn how they use technology.

As you do this, you’ll be starting to generate hunches – areas to explore. During the Research Phase, you’ll start to explore these hunches, chatting to the sector experts we’ll bring in to help you and co-designing possible prototypes with potential users. You’ll use this feedback to narrow to a handful of promising ideas which you’ll continue to develop and validate over the rest of the program.

Who would I shadow?

We recruit New Yorkers from underserved communities all over the city to speak with our teams and host them in their homes. We ask each community member a series of questions when they enter our research group so that we can better understand their life experience and effectively match them to our teams based on the challenges they are trying to address.

Past teams have spoken to single moms trying to balance multiple part time jobs, immigrant families trying to find daycare for their children, women who work as nannies and house cleaners around the city, and first generation college kids who are working hard to graduate. Whatever you’re working on, we’ll connect you with a range of people from whose experiences ideas could emerge.

How do you do this in a way that’s respectful to communities?

We deeply believe in engaging respectfully with members of communities who are underserved by technology. We prioritize the comfort and convenience of all those willing to share their experiences with us, and we always offer people something in return for their time. We’re trying to find ways to bring community members more deeply into the design process and to share our process and techniques.

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

We require all of our fellows to be in NYC, working out of our co-working space for the duration of the Fellowship. We may, on a case by case basis, be able to provide limited support to help you relocate. Please get in touch with us to find out more

Do you provide work visas for international applicants?

Unfortunately, at this time we’re not able to provide visas for non-US citizens to participate in the Fellowship. If you’re already in the US on a visa that allows for fellowship, research, or contract work, we’re happy to chat about ways to make this work.

I can’t make the timing work. Will you offer the program again?

2016 will be our third cycle of the Fellowship. Each year, we re-evaluate the program and how we’re performing against our objectives and make changes – some big, some small – to try to expand our impact. You can read about this year’s changes here.

We are strongly committed to continuing to offer programs that support social innovators who want to use tech as a tool to promote equality of access and opportunity in New York City and more broadly. What exactly those programs look like may change year-to-year, but you can be sure we’ll have opportunities available in the future if you want to get involved.

Catalyst

Different Deadline For Experts?

We have extended the application period for Experts until March 6th.

Engineers, designers, and product managers deadline will remain February 27th.

What does Blue Ridge Labs mean by an early-stage idea?

Teams with prototypes have typically been through the “discovery” phase – either at an incubator or university lab or on their own – but have not yet participated in an accelerator program. They will have defined a value proposition, developed and begun to test out a minimum viable product, and have done enough market research and thinking about their business model to commit to launching a new venture.

If your team has been up and running with full-time team members for more than three years or has raised over $400K in funding, you’re probably too far along for this program to apply. Conversely, if you have an idea for a new product or service but you haven’t yet built a prototype, you’re probably too early and might be better served by our summer fellowship.

Does the idea have to be a tech-based solution?

Yes. While the product or service does not have to be solely technology based, it has to be part of the solution.

Is Catalyst a full time role?

Yes. If accepted, we expect that a minimum of one member of your team will work full-time out of our offices at 150 Court St in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

What is the Catalyst stipend?

The team will receive a stipend of $50K for the six month program that they may spend as they choose. This stipend will be provided as a recoverable grant.

If the team has incorporated, this stipend will be paid directly 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 stipend, each full-time participating team member will receive up to $400/month in health insurance reimbursements.

We also provide a research budget of $1,500 for interviews, focus groups, and user testing with our Design Insight Group.

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?

No. For non-profit organizations, funding is allocated as a grant. For for-profit organizations, funding is structured as a recoverable grant with a set of milestones that trigger repayment. 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?

No. Catalyst caters to teams working in any vertical, as long as the product aims to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers and has a technology component. 

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

For Catalyst, we require that at least one team member works full-time out of our co-working space at 150 Court St. in Brooklyn. We may, on a case by case basis, be able to provide limited support to help you relocate. Please get in touch with us to find out more.

I’m a sole founder. Can I apply?

Yes, though you should be sure to address 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?

Yes. 

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.