Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

DURHAM, N.C. – The Triangle is getting a second chance to replicate the success of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s “tech accelerator” with the forthcoming launch of “Groundwork Labs.”

Since the failure of LaunchBox Digital and even as Durham’s Chamber of Commerce wraps up the second round of its Durham Startup Stampede the Triangle has lacked the kind of support, funding and launch mechanism that an accelerator can provide.

The void will be filled next spring when Groundwork Labs launches in The American Underground at Durham’s American Tobacco Historic District. Selected companies will receive up to $20,000 in funding as well as mentoring and other services.

Directing the program will be John Austin, who right now is running Joystick Labs. Its focus is similar but deals with videogame startups. Now Austin will run both with support from Capitol Broadcasting, which owns the tobacco complex, and IDEA Fund Partners, which is associated with early stage venture capital firm IDEA Fund Partners. Joystick and Groundwork will share space in the Underground.

In a Q&A, Austin talks about the objectives of Groundwork Labs.

Why is the accelerator needed?

Durham and the Triangle as a whole have a rich history of creating and fostering strong tech leaders. An accelerator is one important piece of a region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We have a supportive community with meetups, classes, socials and organizations – all great stuff – but none bring the intensity of an accelerator.

Five to 10 startups, each with two to three advisors and mentors working together for three months in one place form a longer term creative cauldron that brings entrepreneurs together with investors and successful founders in a very collaborative way. And that has impact beyond those five to10 teams.

Will you emulate the template created by Joystick?

I wouldn’t say that Joystick creating a template for accelerators – there are lots of great ideas shared by other accelerators that we borrowed and adapted for our particular accelerator. We’ll do the same with Groundwork – use best practices from others, developer our own as we learn, and adapt from JL. There are some things we are doing in JL that are specific to games and aren’t appropriate for GL, and some things we will use.

What will be the primary formula for evaluation?

We will be looking at the key criteria that any investor looks at: the team, the market, and the idea.

Software and mobile app creators are great candidates.

Information technology companies and companies where intellectual property is an important asset and source of differentiation are also eligible, as are medical device startups.

Because of the amount of funding that Groundwork Labs provides and our expertise, we will not fund biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies.

What services will you provide?

The most important thing that we provide are mentors and advisors, access to capital, and a creative cauldron with other startups that will accelerate the path for a company’s success. Beyond that, office space, business and legal advice, bandwidth, and hosting.

Will you be adding staff since you run Joystick?

We will be adding mentors and advisors and some support staff.

Does this new effort affect Joystick? If so, how?

It provides an efficiency in sharing infrastructure – staff, space, and expenses – with another accelerator when JL is not in session.

Why did you decide to take on this new role?

More Fun!

Can your experience in gaming industry translate to other tech areas?

My experience in the gaming industry is actually as a software provider, not as a game developer. I have spent the vast majority of my career with software/technology startups, it just so happens that for the last period the application area has been video games.

(Note: Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL Tech Wire.)

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