Social Innovation Lab



The Social Innovation Lab
is now accepting applications for its 2019-2020 cohort!

Deadline: Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 11:59 p.m.

The Social Innovation Lab (SIL) at Johns Hopkins University accelerates emerging ventures and leaders that seek to change Baltimore and the world. SIL does this by providing funding, mentorship, office space and workshops to help innovative nonprofits, mission-driven companies and disruptive technologies develop and grow into thriving, sustainable ventures that make a measurable impact.

Since 2011, SIL has supported 84 ventures through this program including The Portable Alternative Crib Initiative, Urban Pastoral and Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap. To learn more about SIL and our impacts, view our 2018 and 2019 Impact Reports.

What SIL offers:

SIL provides ventures with the opportunity to:

  1. Learn the needs of your target market or beneficiaries and co-create a solution to serve those customers
  2. Establish and meet critical milestones for growth and sustainability
  3. Connect and collaborate with other entrepreneurs – SIL’s cohort model allows participants to learn from, and collaborate with, each other along the entrepreneurship journey. The cohort-based learning model builds and amplifies the strengths of individuals and the group, and participants must be willing to share their experience with the group.

Up to 10 ventures will be accepted into the cohort and each will receive:

  • $1,000 in funding with the potential to receive additional funding for completing customer discovery milestones
  • Workshops and sessions where venture leaders learn from experienced entrepreneurs and social sector leaders
  • Dedicated mentors and access to an extensive network of advisers including issue experts, experienced entrepreneurs and connections
  • One-on-one coaching and support from SIL’s director (including setting milestones, addressing challenges as they arise and guidance in navigating resources)
  • Dedicated consulting support from JHU Carey Business School
  • Office and meeting space
  • Pro bono tax and accounting, legal and banking support
  • Opportunities to pitch potential supporters at SIL events, including the annual Impact+Innovation Forum, scheduled for April 28, 2020.


What SIL looks for:

SIL is seeking driven, altruistic applicants: people who see a problem; are thoughtful and deliberate at developing a potential solution rooted in personal experience and/or extensive research; are willing to exert extraordinary dedication to make the potential solution a reality; and are enthusiastic about joining a learning community, sharing resources and being open-minded in their approach.

Applications will be evaluated based on:

  1. The leadership ability of the applicant(s)
  2. The venture’s boldness, originality, potential for impact, accomplishments to date, feasibility and potential for sustainability
  3. Fit with SIL resources and offerings.

To be eligible:

  • Applications may be submitted by:
    • Residents of the greater Baltimore area OR
    • Students, faculty, or staff at Johns Hopkins University (any location)
  • Applications may be submitted on behalf of ventures that are in the prototype/pilot phase or already launched and operating. (Ventures must be beyond the idea stage and must be able to demonstrate accomplishments, traction, or impacts.)
  • Ventures may be nonprofit, for-profit or not yet incorporated.


How to apply

To apply, you must request and complete the application by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1. You must request a personalized application link in order to save the progress of your application and submit the application. If you would like to view the full application to prepare your responses for the online form, you may review a sample application. Only applications submitted through the official application form will be considered.

Mandatory program dates

Please keep the following dates reserved on your calendar to take full advantage of the program:

EventDate and time
Cohort retreat #1Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Cohort launch eventWednesday, Nov. 6, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Cohort retreat #2Saturday, Nov. 9, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Cohort retreat #3Saturday, Nov. 23, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m
Cohort retreat #4Saturday, Jan. 25, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Weekly cohort sessionsJanuary 27 - April 27, 5:30 - 7 p.m.
Impact+Innovation ForumTuesday, April 28 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.


Weekly cohort meetings will be held on Wednesday evenings from 5:30-7 p.m. at FastForward U, 320 W. 29th St., Baltimore MD, 21211. In-person attendance is required. If you cannot make this time, please still apply and email SIL Director Alex Riehm to discuss.

What our participants say:

“My time with the John Hopkins Social Innovation Lab was life changing! I had no idea that when I nervously took the time to apply for the SIL that I would be accepted and ultimately awarded the $25,000 inaugural seed funding for my efforts to launch the Portable Alternative Crib initiative. The mentorship, funding and resources offered were all valuable to not only help grow my mission but also to launch a product to help families that are most in need.”

– Shantell Roberts, The Portable Alternative Crib Initiative

“SIL exposed us to an incredible ecosystem of mentors, collaborators, and funders that have been pivotal to the growth and evolution of our venture.”

– J.J. Reidy, Urban Pastoral

“My mentor at the Social Innovation Lab helped me develop metrics that demonstrate the powerful impact of my organization. Thanks to him, I’m able to show the difference my organization makes to teachers and families across Maryland.”

– Melissa Badeker, Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap


Information Sessions

For questions and more information on applying, view the frequently asked questions below and join one of the upcoming info sessions:

Monday, Sept. 9 5-6 p.m.
FastForward U (Register here)

Thursday, Sept. 26 12-1 p.m. (Zoom Webinar)

New This Year!

SIL will be offering a Metrics and Measurements Mini-Course for all interested applicants who want to learn more about how to plan for, document and track your social impact metrics. Join us to learn how to apply logic models and identify metrics for your venture.

Wednesday, Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, 5:30–7 p.m. at FastForward U (More info and registration here)

Friday, Sept. 27 and Monday, Sept. 30, 12 – 1:30 p.m. at FastForward U (More information and registration here)

Please also stop in at our Open Office Hours at FastForward U on Sept. 9, 16, 23 and 30 from 4-6 p.m. The Social Innovation Lab director will be available to answer questions you have about the application.

Please keep an eye out for more information sessions to be announced on Twitter and Facebook.

Please also consider joining us at our upcoming Impact Bootcamp on Saturday, Sept. 28, co-hosted with Baltimore Corps’ Elevation Awards, Open Society Institute-Baltimore’s Community Fellowships and Impact Hub Baltimore! This Bootcamp is for people who want to gain or enhance the skills essential for launching and leading a community project, nonprofit, or mission-driven business. While participation in this event is not required to complete an application, we encourage attendees to consider applying to SIL. Click here for more information or to register.



Is this just for JHU students?

Definitely not!! Anyone that lives in the greater Baltimore area may apply. Also, in addition to students, JHU faculty and staff may apply.

What are some examples of the kind of ideas and ventures SIL is looking to support?

Great examples include Happy Teacher Revolution, The Portable Alternative Crib Initiative, Fight Blight Bmore, The ClearMask, Mera Kitchen Collective, MERIT, Urban Pastoral, Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap, B-360 Baltimore, Hosts for Humanity, and many more. Click here to see a complete list of our past ventures.

Is this mostly for people who want to start nonprofits or for people starting for-profit businesses?

Both are eligible and encouraged to apply, provided the venture you are forming expects to have positive social impact and the potential to sustainably deliver that impact over time.

What do you mean by “social impact?”

For us, when we refer to “social impact,” we mean the measurable demonstration of value created to society as a result of a social innovation. Businesses create value for shareholders; social enterprises create financial value and societal value. We support organizations who expect to build value for society.

For more information on how to measure social impact, join our Impact Bootcamp on September 28 (RSVP here) or register for our Metrics and Measurement Mini-Course, offered in the evenings of Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 (RSVP here) or lunchtime of Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 (RSVP here).

I have an idea for a product or invention and I want to develop a prototype but I’m not sure if I want to build it into a venture. Should I still apply?

No, SIL is for individuals and teams that want to build ventures. In order to be eligible, you must already have a prototype in development or completed.

Do I have to already be working on something or can I just have an idea?

You need more than an idea. SIL is looking for ventures that have already demonstrated some form or accomplishments, traction, or impact (but may still be at the early stage).

Does my venture have to focus on an issue in Baltimore?

Your venture is not required to focus on addressing an issue in Baltimore, but thinking locally is encouraged. Please note, in order to be eligible to receive the up to $25,000 Cohort Prize, participating teams must commit to remain in Baltimore.

Do I have to apply with a team or can I apply on my own?

You may apply on your own but applying as a team is encouraged. A large part of the selection process will include an evaluation of the leadership ability of the applicant(s). Although uniquely talented individuals may achieve success independently, a team of individuals and/or a coalition of partner organizations working together effectively is more likely to demonstrate leadership ability and likelihood of success.

Further, if applying as a team, you are encouraged to include team members that represent the community/issue you seek to serve. If you do not currently have team members, please do not be discouraged from applying. SIL can help you form a team, build partnerships and improve your potential for success.


I’m thinking about applying, is there someone I can get in touch with to see if this would be right for me?

Yes, send any questions to SIL Director Alex Riehm.

Where can I find a full list of all the questions?

You can review a sample application here.

May I submit more than one application?

No, SIL looks for dedication and commitment – thus we want to see applicants are fully committed to their venture and who have made progress towards their projects.

After the Oct.1 deadline, when will be the next time you accept applications for a new cohort?

Our accelerator program is an intensive, six-month commitment where we are fully devoted to supporting our cohort ventures. The next application process will open in August 2020.

How does the review process work and when will I find out if I’ve been accepted?

Applications will be reviewed by a committee, which will score the applications based on what you provide and select a smaller group of interviewees. Interviewees may be asked to prepare additional documentation and will be invited to an interview with the committee during business hours on Oct. 15-17. Accepted applicants will be notified by Oct. 21.


What is the time commitment if I’m selected?

Building an impactful and sustainable venture is a major time commitment. This can be accomplished alongside other commitments such as school, work or family obligations. However, your work with your venture and SIL should be among your top priorities.

Time and place for where your work occurs is up to you, but there are several required event dates as well as required weekly cohort sessions. Participating teams commit to devoting at least ten hours per week towards their ventures, although participants often contribute many more.

Between weekly meetings and mentoring sessions, participants should expect to spend between 3 and 5 hours per week on SIL-related activities from Oct. 26 to April 28.

If you have conflicts or further questions, do not be discouraged from applying. If you have a conflict, please contact SIL Director Alex Riehm.

If I were selected, how would I receive the $1,000?

This is provided as an award. Participating teams must register as a vendor with Johns Hopkins University, provide a draft budget for approval and commit to using expenses only on the project (not personal use). Participants will receive full terms and details during orientation.

If selected, will the trainings and program be personalized based on what I need help with or will it be standard for everyone?

There will be some standardized programming for all participants, but a large part of SIL’s offering is one-on-one mentoring and coaching, which will be highly personalized.

Question not answered here? Email SIL Director Alex Riehm. 

To access the application, please request a personalized link. The deadline to complete the application is Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 11:59 p.m.