Builders + Backers Announces First Workforce Development Cohort
January 1, 2022

Builders + Backers Announces First Workforce Development Cohort

Birmingham, Ala. - Today, Heartland Forward, Builders + Backers, Walmart, the City of Birmingham Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, the City of Mobile, and Innovation Portal announced the opening of applications for Alabama residents to access up to $5,000 to help them turn ideas related to workforce solutions into potential businesses or ventures. Anyone across the state with an idea for solving a workforce problem facing their community is encouraged to apply. Ideas could address reengaging dislocated workers, creating non-traditional talent pipelines, developing credentialing systems, and expanding skill-based application and hiring processes.

The Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator Program powered by Heartland Forward is designed to make it easy for anyone to experiment with entrepreneurship. This new cohort of builders is part of Heartland Forward’s commitment to supporting 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023. 

“Problem solving with an entrepreneurial mindset will be key to rebuilding our post-COVID local economies, and the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator has already proven to be a successful, meaningful way to accelerate the entrepreneurial thinking needed to help our communities thrive,” said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. “We’re thrilled to be bringing this program to Alabama with the support of Walmart as part of our commitment to support 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023. We’re confident this next cohort of Builders will have the innovative thinking and ideas to create real change in their communities and address problems facing our workforce, and we look forward to seeing what they can accomplish in the months and years to come.” 

Those interested can complete an application here; applicants are not required to submit a business plan or have a pitch deck for their idea. Residents must apply by December 30, 2022. Residents with the most promising and innovative ideas will be selected to participate in a two-month long virtual program starting on January 26, 2023. 

“Entrepreneurship is seeing a problem that exists and experimenting with a solution to address it,” said Donna Harris, CEO of Builders + Backers. "Millions of Americans see problems and solutions everyday while driving our kids to school, shopping online or waiting on hold to speak to a doctor. And we say, 'someone should fix this or build that.' Unfortunately, that's where millions of ideas end. We're excited to partner with Heartland Forward and Walmart to help get these ideas in Alabama from concept to action."

“Walmart is thrilled to partner with Heartland Forward and Builders + Backers to launch the workforce ideas accelerator,” said Sean Thurman, Senior Director of Global Public Policy at Walmart. “With approximately 1.7 million associates in the United States (more than 40,000 of which are employed in Alabama), we’re committed to strengthening training and education for our workforce, and working with others to improve career mobility across the retail sector and beyond – for example, improving learning systems for working adults and ensuring greater recognition of skills acquired through alternative learning models. With 90 percent of Americans living within ten miles of a Walmart store, we know how important it is to work with communities to address shared challenges. We look forward to seeing what creative ideas come out of this cohort.”

“Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator and the partnerships with Walmart and Heartland Forward will allow our local business owners to expand their business ideas.  Thus, growing the economy and expanding the workforce in the Mobile community.  The City of Mobile’s Office of Supplier Diversity is elated for the partnership and the opportunities that they bring to our current future business owners,” said Archnique Kidd, Supplier Diversity Manager City of Mobile.   

"Partnering with organizations like Walmart, Heartland Forward, Builders and Backers on the Idea Accelerator is a great opportunity for our local builders to get access to great curriculum, mentors, and partners as they explore the big ideas facing workforce development facing our communities,” said Todd Greer, Executive Director of Innovation Portal. 

“We are excited to amplify this program to help create innovative solutions to workforce development”, said Coreata’ Houser, Deputy Director for the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.  

“We understand that the needs of our workforce are diverse and complex, and programs like this help us uncover robust solutions and entrepreneurs simultaneously, “said Sarah McMillan, Manager of Workforce and Talent Development.

At the heart of the program are the four pillars, designed to mobilize and equip Builders through: 

  • Idea Accelerator: This cohort-based program combines a 45-day Builder Bootcamp to teach participants how to put ideas into action, followed by 45 days of actively executing their ideas through a single experiment.
  • Pebble Fund: All of the Builders are supported by a $5,000 Pebble Grant to test their ideas. Participants are mentored by Master Builders throughout the program.
  • Storytelling: A comprehensive media program that curates, captures and distributes stories of Buildership™, both from within the programs and in communities everywhere. Through video, written stories, social media and media partnerships, the program inspires people to become Builders.
  • Buildership Workshops: Workshops and other events introduce people to the ideas of Buildership™ and demonstrate that anyone can generate creative solutions through entrepreneurial experimentation that contribute to the sustainability of communities.

The program was first piloted in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oxford, Mississippi in summer 2021, and since, there have been over 300 builders across 15 cities. To learn more about the Builders, see here. 

About Heartland Forward:

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit

About Builders + Backers:

Builders + Backers invests in exceptional entrepreneurs who are building global-scale ventures to power an entirely different future - one where technology creates value for many instead of capturing it for a few. Through proprietary programming, Builders + Backers also inspires and equips people to best seize the opportunities of our digital era - from experimentation and solving problems in their local communities to starting new ventures that could scale. By backing the most creative builders across the country, we can shape the digital future to be one in which more people participate and thrive.

About Walmart:

Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) helps people around the world save money and live better - anytime and anywhere - in retail stores, online, and through their mobile devices. Each week, approximately 230 million customers and members visit more than 10,500 stores and numerous eCommerce websites under 46 banners in 24 countries. With fiscal year 2022 revenue of $573 billion, Walmart employs approximately 2.3 million associates worldwide. Walmart continues to be a leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy and employment opportunity. Additional information about Walmart can be found by visiting