REDF Accelerator

REDF has a 20+ year track record of investing exclusively in social enterprises that employ and equip people overcoming barriers to work. The REDF Accelerator is a unique, hands-on program designed to support and connect the leaders of employment social enterprise. Described as a “mini-MBA” for social enterprise leaders, our Accelerator is tailored for entrepreneurs who are ready for growth.

During this highly interactive five-month program you’ll work alongside peers to learn and put into practice the methods, skills, and tools needed to achieve big goals and reach key milestones. And there’s no fee to participate.

Applications for the next cohort are due Friday, October 22

If you have additional questions, reach out to the REDF team at connect@redf.org.

APPLY HERE

What Is the 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 Leaders receive expert guidance on core business competencies, employee support programs, and the opportunity to plug into a network of like-minded peers.

Key Dates

  • Application Opens: September 13, 2021
  • Application Close: October 22, 2021
  • Session 1: January 24-28
  • Session 2:  March 14-18
  • Session 3: May 2-6

Time Commitment

The REDF Accelerator takes place over five months, with week-long sessions in Jan, March, and May, during which you will not be present to support your business and staff. Additionally, you’ll have weekly meetings taking place between the three sessions, as well as work to complete business and program experiments.

2022 Dates:

  • Session 1 – January 24-28
  • Session 2 – March 14-18
  • Session 3 – May 2-6

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 – 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.

Eligibility Criteria 

Applicant Eligibility:

  • Must lead or have full decision-making authority within an employment social enterprise.* As part of the REDF Accelerator, business leaders are experimenting with changes to aspects of their business and participant/employee programs and should have the authority to make organization changes such as  launching a new product/service or offering a new employee support.
  • Only a single leader from the enterprise will participate in the REDF Accelerator. That leader must commit to attending the full program and engage in peer collaboration in-between sessions.
  • Willing and able to provide 2 years of key data to REDF.

*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. 

Organizational Eligibility:

  • Must provide paid employment at or above local minimum wage and wraparound services. 
  • Must serve one of REDF’s focus populations.*
  • 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.

**REDF’s focus populations include those who are  previously incarcerated, navigating homelessness, mental illness and addiction, domestic violence and human trafficking, opportunity youth, or who have refugee/asylee status. While disabilities are a significant barrier for many individuals, REDF does not focus on this population. 

Review Criteria 

To facilitate this partnership, we will be reviewing applications based on the following criteria:

  • Leadership: The leader has a demonstrated interest in and capacity for being an active Accelerator participant – to learn from, share with, and teach others. 
  • Organizational Capacity: The ESE 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. The ESE has data reporting and tracking capabilities, and financial sustainability.
  • Business Model & Mission: The ESE has stable business and program models that can serve as the foundation for growth. The growth plan is clear, comprehensive and realistic while offering a compelling vision based on feasibility, market need, and job-type fit for the population served.
  • Partnership: The ESE and leader have the capacity and eagerness to partner with REDF and Accelerator peers with a demonstrated commitment to DEI efforts and the community.

Information to Prepare

  • Number of staff (these are staff that do not participate in your employment program)
  • Number of program participants facing barriers to employment (these are employees that participate in your employment program)
  • Earned revenue, philanthropic revenue, and total expenses

Documents to Prepare

  • Organizational chart
  • Income statement (profit and loss statement) for this year and last
  • Budget for the current fiscal year

REDFs 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 (for temporary employment models)

REDFs Commitment to Diversity Equity and Inclusion

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 believes that leaders of color and those who share the lived experience of their program participants, have the potential to bring invaluable expertise to their work and to the sector, and so we seek to increase the allocation of REDF resources to them.

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.

REDF Accelerator Webinar

We will host two Informational webinars via Zoom, to answer questions and give you guidance about the program and the application. Please register to join us via the links below:

For questions regarding eligibility please email connect@redf.org

Application Logistics

Where can I find the application?

You can apply for the application here. Applications are due Friday, October 22, 2021 at 11:59PM PST. 

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. 

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 1 hour.

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.

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

Successful completion of the Accelerator puts your organization in the pipeline for future grants from REDF but is not a guarantee. 

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 in our focus populations. 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:

  • 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.
  • Provide paid employment with wages that meet local minimum wage thresholds.
  • Provide wraparound and/or workforce development services to participants/employees. 
  • Have been in operation for at least 12 months prior to joining the cohort.
  • 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 working their way up within 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 facing barriers.

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 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 still unsure, 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. 

If I am not selected for the Accelerator this time around, can I reapply next time?

Yes. Any eligible ESE that is not selected in the current round can reapply for the Accelerator in subsequent application rounds 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. 

Does participation in the REDF Accelerator program cost anything?

No, the REDF Accelerator does not charge for participation. 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 cohort. REDF estimates we will receive 40-60 eligible applications for the Accelerator application process.

What if I have more questions about the REDF Accelerator?

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.
  • 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 are employed by the ESE and receive wrap around supports and workforce skills development. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

Our Guiding Principles

We’re continuing to improve our transparency practices at REDF, and so we want to share the 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 share the lived experience of their program participants, bring to their enterprise.
  • 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 organization. Quality outcomes are as important as scale (i.e. people employed vs. profitability).
  • 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.