Next Step Grants

Next Step grants are an opportunity for VELA to reinvest in programs and ideas within the VELA community that are facing immediate opportunities to expand impact.

VELA is now accepting applications for its 2023 Next Step program.


The Next Step grant program is a competitive grant program available to current members of the VELA community (people or organizations that have previously received a VELA micro grant).

Next Step grants are prioritized for members of our community that are experiencing significant, unmet demand to expand to serve more learners and families, and demonstrate readiness to immediately increase their reach and impact. All VELA micro grant recipients are eligible to apply.

Investment criteria

All Next Step grant recipients must meet VELA’s investment criteria. To be considered for Next Step funding, applicants must:

  • demonstrate an immediate opportunity to expand their impact, as evidenced by unmet demand from their target audience.
  • clearly articulate their vision of success and the value their program creates.
  • provide evidence of early indicators of effective implementation and impact.
  • have well-defined goals and the capacity to execute with excellence.
  • have an implementation plan in place to serve more learners and families within 3 months of applying.

Funding decisions will be based on programs’ readiness to immediately increase their impact, utilizing the following criteria:

  • Unstoppable, Permissionless Entrepreneur. The program is led by a powerhouse entrepreneur, has experienced substantial growth, and is on the path toward expanding its impact, with or without additional VELA support.
  • Immediate Growth Potential. The applicant provides clear evidence of additional demand for the program that, with additional funding, could immediately be met.
  • Value Creation. The applicant has a defined point of view on what success looks like for their program and provides evidence that the program is delivering against these outcomes.
  • Sustainability. The applicant has creatively structured its business model to generate revenues while increasing access, and is not reliant on grant funding to sustain into the future.
  • Community Building Potential. The program is deeply rooted in the community it serves as well as the broader out-of-system education community in its immediate area.

Previous Next Step grant recipients include 

  • Tutor Tots received a Next Step grant to scale and increase the accessibility of their technology-based program, offering classes for grade levels beyond first grade and expanding their self-paced course catalog, a highly requested resource for homeschooling families.
  • W.I.S.E. (Wichita Innovative Schools Network) received a Next Step grant to develop strategic partnerships to include resources (such as business consulting, accounting, legal advice, etc.) for their network of out-of-system schools and educators.
  • The Learning Outpost received a Next Step grant to launch a virtual platform for families to bring project-based learning into their homes and serve as a homeschooling resource for parents including teaching tips, curriculum, an online community, and more.
  • Metsada received a Next Step grant to support the Metsada Learning Network which provides financial, administrative, legal, and technological support and expertise to local brick-and-mortar alternative learning environments.
  • Engaged Detroit received a Next Step grant to serve more learners and families by adding more coaches and creating a toolkit to expand their work into other communities and states.
  • Barefoot University received a Next Step grant to open at least 15 more learning environments across the country to significantly increase the number of learners they serve.

Application process and timeline

VELA’s 2023 Next Step grant application is now open and closes on Friday, October 20, 2023, at 5 pm EST. The application process is rolling.

  • Eligible VELA community members will receive an email on May 5, 2023 with a unique link to apply.
  • Applications may be submitted at any time during the application window. Applications are reviewed in rounds; see a more detailed timeline below.
  • To ensure timely communications, please add to your safe-sender list to ensure you receive our communications. 
  • Applicants should apply when they believe they are best positioned to deliver against the above funding criteria.
  • Please note that Next Step grants have limited available funding, and while previous Micro grant recipients are eligible to apply, this is not guaranteed funding. Each application will be evaluated based on its own merit and alignment with VELA’s Next Step criteria. 
  • UPDATE: Round 4 Next Step grants are available to 501c3 nonprofit organizations. However, VELA is also open to considering mission related investments (MRIs) in for-profit organizations or LLCs. MRIs include microloans and SAFE investments.

The 2023 Next Step grant review timeline is detailed below. 

Round 1Round 2Round 3Round 4
Application opensMay 4May 4May 4May 4
Submissions dueMay 25
5:00pm EST
July 21
5:00pm EST
September 15
5:00pm EST
October 20
5:00pm EST
Review processMay 30 – June 23July 24 – August 18September 18 – October 13October 23 – November 17
Decisions communicatedBy June 30By mid SeptemberBy October 20By November 22
Payment sentWeek of July 12Late SeptemberWeek of October 30Week of December 4

*We do our best to adhere to the timeline outlined above regarding communicating our funding decisions and sending payments to grant recipients. Please know that our timing may shift, and decisions and payments may be communicated later than the dates listed. If we are delayed in our decisions or payments, we’ll communicate with applicants and provide an update via email. To ensure timely communications, please add to your safe-sender list to ensure you receive our communications.