BrandLab Launches Inclusive Fellowship with Best Buy, Optum
Students at a BrandLab event (pre-Covid-19)

BrandLab Launches Inclusive Fellowship with Best Buy, Optum

With $1 million in funding, the new LabFellows program will offer paid marketing fellowships to college grads from diverse backgrounds.

In the weeks after George Floyd was killed, The BrandLab was inundated with calls from businesses that wanted to do something tangible to fight systemic racism. The Minneapolis-based organization, which places diverse students in advertising and marketing industry internships, told companies that what it really needs is sustained support: three-year commitments from its partners so that BrandLab can spend more time on its mission and less time fundraising.

Message received. This week Best Buy, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum, and the Midwest office of global marketing agency Wunderman Thompson announced a $1 million, three year commitment to create LabFellows, a new paid fellowship program for upcoming and recent college graduates from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Media agency Essence will also participate in the first year of the program.

BrandLab programming starts with exposing kids to a variety of career paths in high school, offering internships and mentorship that continue intto college and beyond. The ultimate goal: “full-time employment in the marketing industry,” said program director Thomas Toley. “We’ve seen so many of our alumni become employed and open the door for the next generation, but the odds are still stacked against our participants.”

Launching in late spring, the new LabFellows program will offer 16 paid fellowships at the participating companies. The goal is to place participants in full-time positions following the eight-month program. “It will not only provide an incredible opportunity for the fellows,” Toley said, “but it provides real access to full-time employment.”

Fellowship positions will range from brand and digital marketing to art direction, design, and copywriting. The corporate partners will also provide resumé, portfolio, and career consulting, as well as job referrals.

“Creating more learning and development opportunities for youth and inspiring creative, young talent, by giving them the skills they need, could not be more in line with the work we are doing at Best Buy,” said Best Buy chief marketing officer Frank Crowson, a BrandLab board member, in a statement. “We are incredibly proud to be working alongside such amazing partners…to bring this program to life.”

BrandLab views this pilot program as a launchpad, Toley said. “We would love to emulate this program with new partners and in our other markets.”