Fellowship – FAQs

About the programme

Who’s behind this programme?

The Finance Innovation Lab incubates the people and the ideas that can transform the financial system for the better. Our vision is a financial system that serves people and planet – one that’s democratic, responsible and fair.

We work with innovators creating new, purpose-led models in finance, intrapreneurs seeking to change their organisations from the inside out, and regulators and policy makers shaping the rules of the game. Our work is rooted in an understanding of finance as a complex system. Our fundamental belief is that because humans created the financial system, we can change it again too.

We were founded in 2009 by WWF-UK and the Institute of Chartered Accountants and we are now a registered charity.

Why are you doing this?

For too long, our financial system has become disconnected from the needs of people, the environment and the economy. While rapid transformation in data and AI capabilities offer the potential for positive change, it also brings new risks around consent and control, bias and exclusion, and exploitation.

To seize the opportunity to build a more democratic, responsible and fair financial system, we want to support genuinely disruptive innovators – those who put social and environmental concerns at the heart of their work.

Purposeful innovation isn’t easy – entrepreneurs face resistance from existing players, a regulatory framework that isn’t fit for purpose, and a lack of public engagement. If we don’t support these new businesses to thrive, we won’t see the sustainable financial system we deserve. So we want to empower the next generation of pioneers in socially useful finance to make the biggest possible impact.

There are lots of fintech incubators. What’s different about Lab Fellowship?

Unlike other fintech incubators, the Fellowship programme combines specialist support for financial innovation with a dedication to positive social and environmental impact. This means that we are:

  • Purpose-driven – we select Fellows on the basis of their potential to create positive change and put purpose at the heart of every element of the curriculum
  • Holistic – we develop you as a leader and connect you with our community of influentials committed to purpose-led financial innovation, during and after the Fellowship
  • Inclusive – you can participate in the part-time programme alongside other commitments and it is designed to enhance your existing work plans; the generous support of our partners means that we will not let money be a barrier to anyone participating
  • Independent – we are not affiliated with any particular business or authority, and we do not ask for an equity stake in your business.

What’s your experience in running incubators?

We have a ten-year track record supporting purpose-led innovation. Since launching Lab Fellowship in 2016, we have supported 29 purpose-led innovators. Fellows have developed an inclusive credit referencing start-up (selected as finalist for the 2017 Fintech for All competition); a world-leading research provider that exposes the climate-related risks investors face; and the first of a new, UK-wide network of regional community banks.

Our independent evaluator found Lab Fellowship 2017 to be an “outstanding success” – you can read their full evaluation here – and our Fellows have great things to say about the programme:

“Lab Fellowship spurs ideas, passion and excitement, and enables you to imagine a future world different to the current one.”

“The Fellows are all doing different things but have all got similar values and missions. The community sustains you… It was so important to my journey as an entrepreneur.”

“The leadership retreat had a huge personal impact. Throughout the programme I learned about the power of vulnerability, and was reminded it is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

“Being part of a community has really been invaluable for me…. It has been a safe environment to share challenges, create common solutions where other Fellows may have faced similar hurdles. It has allowed a new side of me to grow around entrepreneurship.”

“Probably the difference between giving up and persevering.”

How is the programme funded?

The programme is funded through a mixture of participant contributions and Lab core funding. We are extremely grateful to the organisations who support our work, currently Barrow Cadbury Trust, Friends Provident Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Partners for a New Economy and Tudor Trust.

We’re keen to speak with funders, individuals and organisations who would like to support this programme in future. Please get in touch by emailing our Head of Programmes, Marloes Nicholls: marloes@financeinnovationlab.org.

Information for future applicants

Who can be a Lab Fellow?

The programme is designed for early-stage innovators with brilliant ideas to transform finance to serve people and planet. We’re particularly interested in supporting people who wouldn’t normally consider taking part in an incubator or accelerator, either because they don’t fit conventional expectations of what an ‘entrepreneur’ is, or their idea works very differently to current approaches to finance.

You don’t need to be working on your idea full-time, but you must be committed, excited and ready for support to take your business to the next level.

You can find out more about our selection criteria for Lab Fellowship 2018-19 here.

The programme is primarily designed for start-ups, but we also welcome applications from innovators within existing organisations who want to repurpose an existing product or create a new product or service.

Where possible, we encourage you to apply in a pair, as this helps to better embed the learning in your business. But don’t worry if you’re applying as an individual – you’re sure to build new connections along the way!

Who will teach the programme?

Alongside the Lab team, Fellows are taught by our expert faculty, drawn from the worlds of ethical finance, regulation and policy, social innovation and responsible technology. To give you an idea of the sorts of people we work with, 2017’s Financial Health Fellowship faculty included: Jason Bates (Co-Founder, 11:FS), Jamie Campbell (Head of Awareness, Bud), Bruce Davis (Founder & Joint Managing Director, Abundance Investment), Candice Hampson (Investment Director, Big Society Capital), Marlene Shiels (CEO, Capital Credit Union), Anna Wallace (Innovate Head of Department, Financial Conduct Authority) and Sian Williams (Director of Policy and Innovation, Toynbee Hall).

Where will the sessions be held?

All sessions (except for the retreats) will be held in central London venues. The retreats will be held outside of London, in a location accessible by public transport. We use a peaceful location where you can reflect on your work and connect with yourself, your peers and nature. Full details will be confirmed when you are accepted onto the programme.

If you live outside of London and will struggle to cover the costs of travelling to the sessions, we are able to offer a limited number of travel bursaries. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for this on your application form.

How much work will have I to do in between the sessions?

The more time you can dedicate to applying the lessons learnt and reflecting on your development, the more value you will get from the programme. We will ask you to spend half to one day a month preparing for the next session and following up from the previous session (this will vary depending on the content of each session).

Will we have an opportunity to pitch for investment?

The closing event will be a showcase of Fellows’ businesses, in which you will have the opportunity to explain your work to a range of influencers, investors and potential partners. You will also have the opportunity to meet and learn from investors over the course of the programme.

What happens if I have to miss a session?

It’s very important that you can attend all of the sessions, for your own learning and that of the wider group.

We recognise that in exceptional circumstances you may not be able to attend a session. If this happens, we ask that you inform the team as soon as possible. Afterwards, we will arrange for you to speak to a Fellow who attended the session, so that they can share their learning.

Appointed Fellows will be asked to sign a learning agreement before the programme starts to confirm that they understand and agree to the expectations the Lab has of Fellows – in terms of session attendance and their behaviour towards the Lab team and others in the group. The Lab withholds the right to ask a Fellow to leave the programme if those expectations are not met.

How much does it cost?

We don’t ask for an equity stake in your business so you can maintain full ownership, but we do ask Fellows to contribute to the cost of the programme. With the generous support of our partners, the contribution we expect Fellows to pay is much lower than the full cost to run the programme. We also recognise that your ability to pay will vary depending on your personal financial situation, the stage of your business, and whether you are an employee of an established organisation.

We ask Fellows to cover the costs of their own travel to and from the programme sessions. However, travel bursaries are also available.

Is the status of Fellow permanent?

No – you are a Fellow while you are taking part in the programme, but we will recruit a new group of Fellows in future years.

Following the programme, you will join the Lab’s Fellow alumni and become a core member of the Lab’s community. Where an individual has made a significant contribution towards a sustainable finance system and has a history of engagement with The Lab, we may confer the title of Senior Fellow. This is a permanent title which reflects outstanding achievement and is awarded at the discretion of the Lab. You can find out more about our Senior Fellows here.

Can you keep my involvement confidential?

No, we can’t – because part of the value of the programme is highlighting your work to influential and investors across the financial system. Within Fellowship sessions, we operate within a framework of trust and neither Fellows nor Lab staff will share commercially sensitive information about your work outside of this group (unless you agree to this).

Can I speak to someone about the programme?

If you have any more questions, please email fellowship@financeinnovationlab.org. Please note that we are a small team and may not be able to respond to your query immediately.

“For me the Fellowship has been a game-changer. It’s had a huge impact on the way I work, and how I feel about what I’m doing.”
- 2017 Fellow

Find out more:


Our unique incubator for purpose-led financial innovators.

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Lab Fellows

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The Senior Fellows

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