2021 REDF Accelerator


The REDF Accelerator brings together a cohort of incredible employment social enterprise leaders to learn and grow together. REDF defines “employment social enterprise” or ESE as a mission driven, revenue-generating business that employs, empowers, and invests in the potential of people to overcome barriers to work.


Over the course of five months, our Fellows receive expert guidance on core business competencies, employee support programs, and the opportunity to plug into a network of like-minded peers.


The application period for the 2021 cohort is currently closed. Find program details and FAQs below. Applications for the next cohort open Fall 2021!




Accelerator Details


Who Should Apply


What to Know


FAQs & Glossary of Terms


Webinar Details


Guiding Principles


Accelerator Details

Key Dates

  • Application Period 
    • Application Opens | Tue 02/16/21
    • Application Closes | Mon 03/29/21 at 10:59 PM PT 
    • Applicants will hear back | Thu 05/20/21
  • REDF Labs: Get to know the REDF Accelerator 
  • Informational Webinars: Navigating the Accelerator Application
    • Webinar #1: Accelerator Application Informational Webinar | Tue 03/02/21 
    • Webinar #2: Accelerator Application Office Hour/Q&A Webinar | Tue 03/16/21
  • Accelerator Session 1
    • June 16-17, 22-25 (remote/online)  
  • Accelerator Session 2
    • August 12-13, 17, 19-20 (remote/online)
  • Accelerator Session 3
    • October 18-21 (remote/online)

Time Commitment 

The  time commitment of the Accelerator program includes:

  • 30 hours of programming during our 3 sessions in June, August and October
  • ~2-5 hours of programming a week in-between sessions. These hours consist of:
    • Homework assignments
    • Happy Hours & Social Hours
    • Leadership Development Workshops

Program Outcomes

Engaging Curriculum – Described as a “mini-MBA,” our Accelerator includes 100+ hours of professional development tailored to the needs of ESE leaders.

  • Expanded Business Model:
    • What – Design a framework to test new program components and their likelihood to increase or sustain revenue within your business model.  
    • Why – Save time and money by prioritizing program innovations that deliver the highest value using the least resources. 
  • Innovations in Impact:
    • What – Create a system for measuring impact that reveals opportunities for program improvement and/or increased funding.
    • Why – Leverage high-potential program innovations to attract more funding and scale your enterprise.
  • Investor and Partner Relationships:
    • What – Develop a strategy to scale your social innovations through investor and partner relationships.
    • Why – Increase sustainability as you scale through strong relationships with partners and investors. 
  • Sustainable Enterprise Growth:
    • What – Using your SWOT analysis, set SMART business goals for program outcomes and revenue generation for the following 3 years.  
    • Why – Build accountability into your plans to scale programs, measurement, and strategy.

A Community of Peers – As many MBAs will tell you, it’s not just what they learned, but who they met, and the Accelerator incorporates this value as well. You’ll leave with an incredible network.

  • A cohort of 18 ESE Leaders from across the US.
  • REDF’s network of over 150 social enterprises located in 30 states and DC.
  • Introductions to industry experts.

An Increased Capacity – Stay accountable to your goals with metrics, tools, and resources to help you meet them. 

  • The Year one Baseline Assessment provides an initial understanding of the strength of your ESE’s business model, program model, fundraising efforts, operations, and personnel factors REDF believes are critical to long-term, sustainable growth.
  • A $20K investment from REDF to put Accelerator learnings into practice – designing and launching innovations to drive growth in revenue and impact.

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Who Should Apply

Eligibility Criteria 

Applicant Eligibility:

    • Must lead or have full decision-making authority within an employment social enterprise. REDF defines “employment social enterprise” as a mission driven, revenue-generating business that employs, empowers, and invests in the potential of people to overcome barriers to work. 
    • Commit to attending 3 multi-day virtual sessions and engage in peer collaboration in-between sessions.
    • Willing and able to provide 2 years of key data to REDF.

Organizational Eligibility:

    • Must provide paid employment at or above local minimum wage and wraparound services. 
    • Must generate earned revenue ($100K-$2M) via selling goods or services. 
    • Have been in operation for at least 12 months and be a stand-alone business or housed under a parent agency.

Selection Considerations

These are not eligibility requirements, these are qualities that make an applicant stand out in a competitive application process. Additionally, we are curating a cohort of participants from across geographies, target populations, program sizes, industries, and business models, rather than a cohort of leaders representing similar ESE’s.

We will be reviewing applications based on the following criteria:

    • Mission Alignment 
      • The enterprise’s mission is aligned with REDF’s priority to support social enterprises that provide employment for those with barriers to employment.
      • Currently employ REDF’s target population through social enterprise and pay wages that meet local minimum wage standards.
      • The enterprise has been managing fully developed programs with measurable outcomes indicating success for participants. 
      • The enterprise currently employs 10+ individuals that identify with REDF’s target population.

    • Leadership Fit 
      • Applicant is seeking to reach a critical milestone related to growth, focusing on revenue and/or impact.
      • Applicant is excited about the opportunity for hands-on learning in community with other entrepreneurs like yourself.
      • Applicant is willing to give and take coaching and feedback graciously, as a gift intended to help you and your peers grow.
      • Applicant is committed to a culture of continuous learning through leveraging data and participant feedback. 
      • Applicants is working s working to advance DEI within your organizations and community, committed to advancing racial equity, and creating equitable outcomes for all program participants.
    • Business Model
      • The enterprise has a compelling business model, and are in industries that are insulated from destabilizing market forces, and/or in industries ripe for growth such as technology, climate, advanced manufacturing, etc.
      • The enterprise is in an overall strong position – both operationally and financially – to build on what already exists and with the right support and resources, grow over the next 3 years.

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What to Know Before You Apply

Information to Prepare

  • Staff demographics – for our team to understand if your leadership identifies as POC or identifies with the background of the population you serve.
  • Number of staff (these are staff that do not participate in your employment training programming)
  • Number of program participants facing barriers to employment (these are employees that participate in your employment training program)
  • 2019 and 2020 earned revenue, philanthropic revenue, and total expenses

Documents to Prepare

  • Organizational chart
  • Your resume
  • 2019 & 2020 income statement (profit and loss statement)
  • Budget for the current fiscal year

REDF’s Reporting Needs 

Participation in the Accelerator includes meeting REDF’s reporting needs. This may include providing the following kinds of data or collaborating with REDF to create data collection strategies:

  • Financial data: earned revenue, other funding sources, business and program costs, and financial forecasting
  • Program data: people employed within REDF’s population focus, participant surveys, and graduation statistics
  • Post-placement data: employment status, wage increases, and promotions 1 year after ESE exit

REDF’s Commitment to DEI in the Accelerator

REDF aspires to advance racial equity in our programs and funding decisions, and generate significant impact in terms of employment for individuals overcoming barriers. We understand our privilege and power as a funder, and recognize that if we are not actively working to advance racial equity, then we are  contributing to the systems of inequity, oppression, and underinvestment in communities of color. In addition, REDF also believes that leaders of color and leaders with lived experience bring invaluable experience and expertise to their work and to the sector, and so we seek to increase the allocation of REDF resources to leaders of color and leaders with the same lived experience as the population they serve.

The actions REDF is taking to ensure more racial equity in the Accelerator include:

  • Capturing leadership demographic data in the application process to help manage and mitigate bias in the selection process. The data is optional to provide, and will not be evaluated as part of the initial application, but will be used to check for and mitigate bias in the first round application review, and will be taken into consideration in the final stage of selection as part of REDF’s effort to select organizations with diverse leadership teams
  • Considering ways in which we can incorporate DEI throughout our curriculum to make it responsive, inclusive and relevant to all leaders that participate in our program
  • Actively working to ensure we have a wide range of representation in our facilitators for all our sessions and in our support services.
  • Determining our eligibility requirements and recommendations by reviewing past data, and assessing whether the organizations led by leaders of color would be unfairly excluded

REDF recognizes that in our effort towards anti-racism, we will sometimes fall short. REDF welcomes feedback on how we can continue to improve our programs and processes to advance racial equity.

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REDF Accelerator Webinar

During the application period REDF will host one virtual activity lab on 2/19 walking though some Accelerator-like activities. REDF will also host two webinars on the 2021 Accelerator and walk through eligibility requirements, basic details, and the application. 

REDF Lab | Fri 2/19/21 | 10am PST / 1pm EST | 3 hours 

This interactive, information-packed (and free!) 3-hour virtual lab will help you:

  • Tap into a growth mindset.
  • Set BIG goals and break those goals down into smaller actionable steps.
  • Identify customer and stakeholder needs and generate rapid solutions.
  • Build trust and alignment with peers, employees, and stakeholders to achieve objectives.
  • Connect with social enterprises across the country.

This event is also a chance for you to get to know REDF and get a preview of the kind of content and peer learning that REDF provides through our Accelerator Program.


Webinar #1: Accelerator Application Informational Webinar | Tue 03/02/21 | 11am PST/1pm CT/2pm EST | 60 minutes

Attendees at the webinar will be introduced to REDF and the REDF Accelerator. We will review the eligibility criteria and discuss who benefits most from the Accelerator content. We’ll then do a high-level walk through of the application – the platform, structure, and questions. We’ll leave 20 minutes at the end of the meeting to field your questions. NOTE: This webinar will be recorded, and we will be posting it on the REDF Website to be referenced by other applicants.

Recording Link | Recording Passcode: Q*Ag53WB


Webinar #2: Accelerator Application Office Hour/Q&A Webinar | Tue 03/16/21 | 11am PT/1pm CT/2pm ET | 60 minutes

Bring any questions you have about the REDF Accelerator application to this informal webinar, where we’ll help you to navigate the platform, structure, and questions. Your questions help us better understand your needs and improve our process, so we hope this will be a win-win.

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Application Logistics

Where can I find the application?

The application is available and submitted through the REDF Application and Awards portal: https://redfaccelerator.smapply.io/prog/. The application link closes on March 29. 

The link above will lead you to our application platform SM Apply. You will be asked to create an account to begin an application. You will receive an email from SM Apply for access to your application and our program portal. Be sure to check your inbox and spam for an email from SM Apply for any application updates during the application period.

Additionally, if you experience any difficulty accessing our application platform our team is willing to provide a word document version of our application on request. 

If you need help accessing the application, please email accelerator@redf.org

If I miss the application deadline of March 29, can I still apply?

We are not able to accept applications after 10:59PM PT on March 29, 2021. If you experience any technical difficulties as you submit you application please contact accelerator@redf.org. Otherwise, We encourage you to apply for the 2022 cohort, the application for which will open fall 2021.

What does the application ask?

The application contains questions regarding ESE mission, leadership, finances, business & program models, and long term goals around growing revenue and impact, as well as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts..

How long will the application take to complete?

Depending on the accessibility of key data, the time it will take to complete the application will vary. However, we don’t anticipate the application taking more than 4 hours.

Can I save my work? Should I plan to submit my application in one sitting?

Yes, you can save your work and revisit the application in multiple sittings, however we recommend writing your application in a word-doc and pasting the content into the application once you’ve had the chance to edit and polish.

If I have questions about applying for the Accelerator, who should I reach out to?

We encourage you to contact our team by emailing connect@redf.org.

How do I fix an error in my application?

If you realize you submitted incorrect information in your application or would like to update a response please email us at acccelerator@redf.org

Do I qualify for the Growth Portfolio and associated project funding?

Successful completion of the Accelerator puts your organization in the pipeline for future rounds of the Growth Portfolio. Application to the Growth Portfolio is now closed. To learn more about eligibility for the next round, visit Growth Portfolio on REDF Workshop.


Accelerator Eligibility Criteria

Are you looking for a specific industry or sector?

No, the selection process is not limited to any industry or sector as long as the enterprise is employing individuals facing significant barriers to employment. We recognize that some sectors create more opportunity for the upward mobility of their participants and we appreciate that when it supports the community you serve. 

Are you looking for enterprises of a specific size?

We have a few guidelines that we recommend ESEs meet to be in the best position to take advantage of the Accelerator:

      • Must generate earned revenue ($100K-2M) via providing goods or services. If revenue is above or below this range, you’ll be asked to provide more detail as to why you believe this program is the right fit for the enterprise. For example:
        • Revenue is currently $88K/year but there are active contracts that will bring the enterprise to $140K this fiscal year.
        • Revenue is currently $2.2M/year, operating costs are high, and the programmatic side of the enterprise is struggling since it lacks expertise in employee supports and workforce development.
      • Must provide paid employment with wages that meet local minimum wage thresholds.
      • Must provide wraparound and/or workforce development services to REDF’s focus populations, including those with a history of homelessness, incarceration, addiction, mental illness, opportunity youth, refugees, survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. 
      • Have been in operation for at least 12 months prior to February 16, 2021
      • Can be either a stand-alone employment social enterprise, or an employment social enterprise housed under a parent agency.

If, after reviewing the website, you are still unsure as to whether you are eligible, please contact us at connect@redf.org.  

Does the REDF Accelerator support both for-profit and nonprofit ventures?

Yes, we are agnostic to legal structure and instead focus on the mission and impact that a social enterprise can have on the lives of its employees facing barriers to employment.

How does REDF define a transitional employment model?

A transitional employment model means hiring employees into positions with duties to help them train for and adjust to more long-term mainstream work opportunities elsewhere. It often includes a maximum amount of time that the employee can stay in the transitional job. Success is typically defined by the employee transitioning to another employer.

How does REDF define a permanent employment model?

A permanent employment model means there is no defined employment end date for employees. Success is typically defined by the employee staying at the ESE.

What if my enterprise is focused on employing those with barriers to employment but we haven’t implemented a transitional model yet?

If you’re already employing those with barriers and are interested in incorporating a transitional model into what you are already doing, we would encourage you to apply and clearly articulate your plans to do so.

What qualifies as earned revenue? 

Earned revenue refers to funds generated by an ESE for providing goods or services through the business (i.e. sales revenue). Note this includes all business lines within an ESE. Qualifying earned revenue should also be tied to the social enterprises’ employment model. For example, revenue from leasing facilities space would not be considered unless facilities rentals is a business line that  also employed individuals

Donations or grants do not qualify as earned revenue and so cannot contribute to meeting the $100k threshold. 

Government funding can qualify as earned revenue depending on the type of funding. If it is a government grant or contract that procures business services from the enterprise, then REDF would consider that as earned revenue. If it is a government grant or contract that subsidizes wages or other program costs NOT in return for products or services, then REDF does not consider that as earned revenue.

If an organization does not meet the income eligibility threshold, should they still apply?

REDF revisits the earned revenue threshold each application cycle, and will apply what we learn each round, including what the impact was on organizations led by people of color or who share the lived experience of their program participants. There is flexibility around this eligibility threshold to address cases on the margin – for example, if an organization earns $75K a year, and has seen double digit growth the past couple years – we would certainly still view them as competitive, even though they do not clear the $100K bar. We want to allow flexibility for situations like this. However, if a social enterprise is earning far below $100K, and is unlikely to reach $100K in the next year, then we would not recommend applying this year. If you are unsure still, a short screening conversation can help assess whether it’s worth your time to apply based on specifics of your social enterprise. To schedule a call please contact connect@redf.org.

Is there a maximum earned revenue for the Accelerator?

REDF is using an annual earned revenue of $2M maximum as a soft proxy to assess whether an organization is too big for the Accelerator. Organizations that exceed this limit are still encouraged to reach out with questions. 

We’re looking for ESE’s in an early or growth stage – revenue should be between $100K – $2M per year. If revenue is above or below this range, you’ll be asked to provide more detail as to why you believe this program is the right fit for the enterprise. For example:

      • Revenue is currently $88K/year but there are active contracts that will bring the enterprise to $100K this fiscal year.
      • Revenue is currently $2.2M/year, operating costs are high, and the programmatic side of the enterprise is struggling since it lacks expertise in employee supports and workforce development.

Application Process

What does the application entail? 

The application includes an eligibility quiz, applicant demographics (invisible to our review panel) a 40-question survey, and 3 document uploads – the leader’s resume, the ESE’s org chart, and the previous year’s financial statement.

The application period lasts from February 16 – March 29, 2021. After the application closes, the review period takes place from March 30 – May 24. A public announcement of accepted applicants will be published on May 25. The Accelerator begins on June 16. 

Applicants interested in receiving support during the application process should register for the informational webinars here. 

If I am not selected for the Accelerator in 2021, can I receive feedback?

Absolutely! Applicants not selected for the Accelerator will have a chance to receive feedback from REDF on the strengths and weaknesses of their application. While being rejected is never pleasant, REDF values the time you took to complete the application and we care about your success as an organization. If this program is not the right fit for you right now, we would welcome the opportunity to help you strengthen your application for next year.

Due to capacity constraints on REDF staff, feedback will not be available until after the selection process has concluded in May. More information about how to request feedback will be available to applicants at a later date.

Will I be interviewed as part of the selection process?

While there isn’t a required interview, we may contact you to schedule a phone call to gather some follow-up information based on your application.

If I am not selected for the Accelerator in 2021, can I reapply next year?

Yes. Any eligible ESE that is not selected in 2021 can reapply for the Accelerator in subsequent application rounds in 2021 and 2022, providing that the ESE still meets eligibility requirements.


Accelerator Details

What is REDF looking for in ESEs applying to the Accelerator?

The REDF Accelerator is tailored to the needs of ESE Leaders who are ready to scale their organization in a significant way – with an eye toward growing revenue and impact. REDF is looking for ESEs who are thinking about and planning for how they can expand their impact beyond incremental improvements or organic growth.

As part of the Accelerator experience, leaders will experiment with new components of their program and business models, impact measurement, investor and partner relationship strategies, plans for sustainable growth, and more. The Accelerator takes a ‘learn by doing’ approach, with content being delivered by industry leaders, subject matter experts, and our own in-house specialists. ESE Leaders will be expected to teach and learn alongside their peers, giving one another coaching and feedback. In 2021, the Accelerator will be 100% remote/online. Applicants should be prepared to participate fully. 

Does participation in the REDF Accelerator program cost anything?

No, the REDF Accelerator does not charge for participation. We will provide accommodations as well as most meals for the duration of the sessions. Technology expenses such as laptop purchasing or rental, internet bill assistance, or hotspot procurement are not covered by REDF but a limited number of technology stipends are available. (To be considered for a stipend, complete the optional technology stipend question in the application.) 

If accepted into the REDF Accelerator Program, will I receive funding for my enterprise?

By successfully completing and graduating from the REDF Accelerator, an enterprise receives an unrestricted grant of $20,000 and becomes eligible to apply for REDF funding opportunities such as our Growth Portfolio program. Participation in the Accelerator does not automatically qualify the enterprise for funding through REDF.

How many grantees will be selected for the Accelerator?

Approximately 18 organizations will be chosen to join the Accelerator in 2021. REDF estimates we will receive 40-60 eligible applications for the Accelerator in the 2021 application process.

What will my participation in the Accelerator entail?

Participation in REDF’s Accelerator entails a willingness to engage in REDF’s hands-on approach, which includes a significant commitment of time by each ESE leader. Participants should be prepared to give and receive feedback from peers and engage with professionals from across industries and geographies. The Accelerator cohort will meet virtually three times in 2021: 

      • Session 1: 6/16-6/17, 6/22-6/25
      • Session 2: 8/12-8/13, 8/17, 8/19-8/20
      • Session 3: 10/18-10/22

What if I have more questions about the REDF Accelerator?

    • Register here to attend the REDF Accelerator informational webinars.
    • For questions regarding eligibility please email connect@redf.org
    • For questions about the application please email us at accelerator@redf.org


Glossary of Key Terms

Below are explanations of key terms used on this webpage as well as in the Accelerator Application. Please feel free to contact REDF at accelerator@redf.org if you have questions.

  • Accelerator Program: The REDF Accelerator is a unique, hands-on program designed to support the leaders of employment social enterprise. Described as a “mini-MBA for social entrepreneurs, the REDF Accelerator provides training and connection, helping ESE leaders strengthen and grow their businesses.
  • Baseline Assessment: An analysis conducted by REDF (with data supplied by the ESE) that helps generate an initial understanding of the ESE  and how it scores across factors REDF believes are critical for long-term success.
  • Business Line: A product or set of related products that serve a particular customer transaction or business need. Some ESEs have multiple business lines; for example, they may run a café as well as a catering business.
  • Capacity: The maximum output of an ESE given available resources. ‘Output’ can be defined as people employed or services/sales provided by the business, but is essentially the impact of the ESE.
  • Earned Revenue: Funds generated by an ESE for providing goods or services through the business. This is distinct from other sources of revenue an organization may have, such as donations or grants.
  • ESE (Employment Social Enterprise): Mission driven, revenue-generating businesses that employ, empower, and invest in the potential of people. These are businesses that both provide paying jobs and help employees stabilize their lives with extra services – ones that help them build their skills and develop a work history. When employees are ready, social enterprises help them find, and keep, good jobs in the competitive market.
  • Growth Portfolio: REDF supports social enterprises with a multi-year investment and on-going consulting services to advance their mission and strengthen operations as part of our Growth Portfolio. 
  • Lived Experience (LE): In this context, LE refers to a member of an ESE’s leadership or staff that shares the same barriers as the organization’s population focus.
  • MBA: Masters in Business Administration
  • People Employed: The number of program participants who are transitionally employed by the ESE for a given span of time.
  • Population Focus: The group ESEs actively recruits and is focused on providing work experience and supports to (e.g. people who have experienced homelessness, people who are in active recovery, etc)
  • Program Participants: The individuals who participate in the ESE’s programming and are the focus of its mission. These individuals are transitionally employed by the ESE and generally receive supportive services while part of the program as well.
  • Supportive Services: (also referred to as employee supports) Assistance provided to employees who have barriers to employment. Examples include: case management, resume preparation, job search support, assistance dealing with barriers like getting driver’s licenses, etc.
  • Technical Assistance (TA): REDF’s specialized business and capacity-building advisory services to ESEs that help amplify impact. TA projects can span across functions, including: growth strategy, market analysis, employee support strategy, program design, recruitment and placement strategy, data capture and analysis, talent management, and systems implementation support.
  • Transitional Employment: A program or service that temporarily places employees into employment in a training-like environment to familiarize and acclimate them into a work environment. Over a period of time, the employees are transitioned into a full-time, less accommodating environment.
  • Workforce Development Services: Supports offered to your participants that help them successfully navigate employment, move up within your business, or transition to long-term employment, such as resume writing and interview supports, certification programs, job shadow and internship opportunities, etc.
  • Wraparound Services: Supports offered to your participants that help them successfully transition into employment, such as counseling, transportation, childcare, housing, etc.

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Our Guiding Principles

We’re continuing to improve our transparency practices at REDF, and so we want to share the 2021 Accelerator guiding principles.

  • Holistic Leadership: We respect the experiences of the leaders of our ESEs and recognize the expertise and valuable perspective leaders of color and those who personally identify with any of the target populations they serve bring to their enterprises.
  • Lean Startup Mentality: We believe the access that your organization has to resources or the lack thereof does not determine good fit for the Accelerator program. A better determination is that you are doing great work with the resources you have.
  • Trust: We seek to develop a partnership that is founded on trust between REDF and grantees. At the core of REDF’s intense engagement model are relationships. Relationships must be founded on trust in order to achieve the impact REDF and our partners seek.
  • Transparency: We believe in developing processes that are transparent. We want grantees to have a clear understanding of who we seek to partner with. We believe having transparent processes is the first step in developing a trusting relationship and makes progress towards having a more equitable grantmaking process.
  • Balance: Expectations of ESEs are bold, but not at the risk of negatively impacting the SE. Quality outcomes are as important as scale (i.e. people employed vs. profitability).
  • Diversity & Equity: We seek an array of ESE models (for profit, nonprofit, industry, size, population, and focus) as well as ESE leadership (people of color, those whose lived experiences reflect those of their participants). REDF seeks to select a cohort that provides equitable access and opportunity to all ESEs, especially those traditionally overlooked by philanthropy.
  • Partnership: REDF considers ESEs an equal partner. REDF recognizes the power imbalances in the philanthropic field between funders and grantees. We seek to address this imbalance and are working to create common ground. We are a work-in-progress in this respect, and we appreciate your partnership. 
  • Continuous Improvement: There is always an opportunity to improve on our work through reflection, seeking feedback, and learning from others.

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