Are you building a mission-driven startup that could improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers? The Catalyst program at Blue Ridge Labs is designed to help founders turn a proven concept into a scalable technology platform.
Over the course of six months, as part of a small cohort of other founders, we’ll help you build version 2.0 of your product and get it into the hands of real people for feedback and validation. In parallel, we’ll work with you to identify the other resources you’ll need to be successful over the long-term – things like funding, team members, and partners – and we’ll help you put the systems in place to do this well.
The Blue Ridge Labs team specializes in creating and supporting early-stage social tech ventures (both for-profit and nonprofit). Alums of our Catalyst program have been named Echoing Green Fellows, participated in Y Combinator, raised rounds from prominent venture capitalists, received funding from major philanthropic institutions, been featured in NYTimes, Forbes, and more. Most importantly, the alumni of our programs help hundreds of thousands of people every day.
Funding: $60,000, plus health insurance reimbursements and a dedicated research budget. Ventures whose founders have personal experience of the issue their product addresses will be eligible for additional funding.
Product Support: Hands-on coaching to help you build, test, and launch a scalable tech platform.
Human Capital: Executive coaching to strengthen your core team. Plus, connections to external talent, advisors, and potential partners.
Community: Access to a wider ecosystem of social impact organizations and free space in our co-working community in Brooklyn once the office is safe to re-open
The strongest candidates for Catalyst are teams that have developed and launched a small-scale version of their product into the world and are ready to apply what they’ve learned through that process towards building a scalable platform.
These early versions can be extremely low-tech or cobbled together from existing tools (think Google Docs, Typeform, and Zapier). They may only have been used successfully by a few dozen people. The critical element is that they have been used by real people in the real world. And that this has happened as many times as it takes for the founders to validate the need for the product, refine the process by which it delivers value, and identify the barriers to scale that need to be addressed by new platforms and systems.
While there are no hard rules, we find that the best fit teams for Catalyst are typically less than 2-3 years old and have raised less than $400,000 in total funding to date.
Currently deliver a product or service to low-income New Yorkers
Are strongly committed to improving the lives of New Yorkers
Use technology as a key part of their solution
Have between one and five full-time team members
Are incorporated or plan to incorporate in the next 6-12 months as either a nonprofit or for-profit social venture, and\
Have at least one full-time team member who can commit to attending all programming. This year’s program will be remote-first, so there will be no requirement to attend programming in person. You will be welcome to work from our offices at 150 Court St when it’s safe to reopen, but it will not be required
We value lived experience and encourage ventures whose founders who have personally experienced the issue their product addresses to apply to Catalyst. Recognizing that financial risk can be a barrier to founding and working full-time on a tech venture, we have additional funding available for ventures whose founders have this lived experience. Ventures will be considered for this funding as part of the application process. No additional steps are needed aside from submitting a Catalyst application.
We are committed to fostering a community that values diverse perspectives and experiences, particularly from those who we aim to serve. We actively seek founders from, or who have worked closely with, historically marginalized groups, including but not limited to: people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, first- or second-generation immigrants, and people from low-income families.
We see digital equity as all individuals and communities having the technology, capacity, and access needed for full participation in our society (definition adapted from the Brooklyn Public Library’s BklynConnect Playbook).
In the past few years, and particularly throughout the pandemic, we are spending more and more of our time online. Doctor appointments, banking, grocery shopping, and even attending work or school can now be done from a computer or phone.
Pandemic-related office closures have exacerbated this issue and, today, accessing critical public services – like healthcare, education, and transportation – often requires an app or website. All too often, though, the technology is not designed to consider diverse needs or inadequate access.
This shift is leaving behind low-income communities, people of color, older adults, and people with disabilities, shining a spotlight on issues around access, inclusion, and equity and widening inequality gaps.
This year’s Fellowship will examine the barriers brought on by digital tools and the issues New Yorkers face while navigating an increasingly digital society, but it will also explore the opportunities for mindfully designed solutions that expand access, equity, and inclusion for all New Yorkers. Issues we seek to explore include (but are not limited to):
Accessing services like health care, education, transportation, etc.
Supporting small businesses, gig workers, and entrepreneurs in a digital economy
Fostering social connection and community engagement