Finnovation Lab Announces Fellowship Program’s Third Cohort
Finnovation Lab third cohort fellows Brook LeFloe (left), Dane Verret (center), and Leah Korger (right; photo by Quincy Street Kitchen).

Finnovation Lab Announces Fellowship Program’s Third Cohort

The nine new fellows selected by the Minneapolis accelerator focus on today’s largest systemic issues like racial and health care disparities.

Minneapolis-based accelerator Finnovation Lab announced the third cohort of its Finnovation Fellowship Program today. The cohort consists of nine entrepreneurs working to solve some of the toughest systemic challenges of 2020, including racial and health care disparities. 

Founded in 2018 by Finnegans Brew Co. founder Jacquie Berglund, Finnovation Lab’s mission is to support startups that are working to solve social problems through business. It does so by providing each fellow with a $50,000 living stipend, a $3,000 health care stipend, a workspace, access to a network of advisers and mentors, and tailored curriculum to help turn ideas into successful impact businesses during the nine-month immersive program.

Meet the Finnovation Lab’s third cohort, selected from a pool of 90 applications submitted this spring

  • Michelle Abdon: addressing the lack of mental health education in high schools by building a curriculum development company that teaches mental health skills and knowledge through studio arts.
  • Marlee Dorsey: reducing health disparities linked to systematic oppression and intergenerational trauma in the Black community through mental health services and resources.
  • Valerie Fleurantin: addressing health disparities in the Twin Cities by creating a health and wellness center with a focus on a wellness culture shift.
  • Naomi Ko: addressing disparities faced by women of color in the film and TV industry by creating a company that connects, empowers, and funds WOC filmmakers.
  • Leah Korger: rethinking the hospitality industry to provide an intersectional space to foster authentic queer community through food and beverage.
  • Brook LaFloe: reducing early childhood disparities for American Indian children by mobilizing an Indigenous artist and educators collective.
  • Temi Ogunrinde: addressing housing inequalities by utilizing the entertainment industry to bring housing revitalization and increase homeownership in marginalized communities.
  • Mary Taris: creating a Black literary arts center for the North Minneapolis community where the Black narrative is valued and Black voices are empowered.
  • Dane Verret: dismantling institutionalized oppression in government and non-profit foundations by founding a learning institute rooted in the knowledge of Black and Indigenous people.

A third of the fellows are focusing on issues of health care, while around 56 percent have chosen to focus outrightly on issues of racial disparity.

“Health care and racial disparities have been systemic issues for decades and evident in the Twin Cities. 2020 has cast a particular spotlight on these two areas, so it’s no surprise that we are seeing future social enterprise leaders express passion and interest to solve them,” said Finnovation Lab CEO Connie Rutledge. “The selection committee considers the timeliness and pervasiveness of the issues that applicants are addressing” when selecting cohort members, she adds. “Those key factors, paired with a slight increase in applications focused on health care and racial disparities, impacted who we chose as finalists.” 

“The fellowship program feels more relevant and important than ever,” founder Berglund said.

The fellowship program, which is supported by the Bush Foundation, will kick off in September and run through mid-June 2021. But, like a lot of things this year, the program will operate a little differently than usual thanks to Covid-19. Rutledge said curriculum and meetings for the first three months of the program will be remote-only. After three months, Finnovation Lab will offer fellows the option to continue remotely or in-person.

“Community connection is key, so we’re working on some unique ways to help the cohort connect with each other and mentors,” Rutledge said. “Fellows will still be invited to use the co-working space, but it’s important to know that Finnovation Lab is closely monitoring Covid-19 developments and will continue to adjust our protocols accordingly.” 

She added: “Quite simply, 2020 just reinforces our belief that we need ‘all hands on deck’ to confront and resolve the systemic problems our society faces. Our mission has always been to support the change makers, and our focus is to help them bring the tools of entrepreneurship and innovation to the fight for a just and equitable society.”