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

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The environment for new and emerging companies across the Triangle continues to evolve as the collaborative venture of Capitol Broadcasting and NC IDEA known as “Groundwork Labs” has redrawn its strategy.

The Durham-based partnership has dropped plans to provide $20,000 in funding for startups and instead will focus on offerings such as mentoring.

That decision came after Triangle Startup Factory, also in Durham,  disclosed its plans to provide $50,000 in funding for selected startups with additional money available. TSF is the rebirth of a previous venture known as Launchbox Labs that as shut down. Groundwork was meant to fill part of the early-stage funding and services void.

John Austin, who runs Joystick Labs – a videogame incubator at The American Underground in Durham and who was named to oversee Groundwork Labs – said the return of TSF meant duplication and a need to refocus.

Now, Groundwork will work with entrepreneurs at the very beginning of business development, the goal being to get them ready to apply for grants from the NC IDEA development fund. The grants are non-dilutive, are awarded twice annually, and are designed to get companies to product development stage.

“NC IDEA’s grant program has become extraordinarily competitive – the last cycle saw 178 applications for the five grants that were awarded,” Austin said. “Recent awardees have included a company with revenue and three that had been through a traditional accelerator.

“We also expect that funding from Triangle Startup Factory will be very competitive, attracting applications from all over the country and making it challenging for local teams to get funded.”

A review triggered a reboot, he explained.

“We looked at that and identified a great way for NC IDEA to extend their mission of fostering economic development in North Carolina by helping young startups commercialize their innovations. We have re-focused Groundwork Labs on becoming a catalyst for North Carolina companies who are just getting started – helping prepare them for NC IDEA grants, angel funding, and accelerators.”

Austin stressed that Groundwork is not an accelerator, which will be TSF’s play.

“We do not invest nor do we take a stake or warrants,” Austin said. “There is not a fixed start date and timeline. We constantly review applications and make decisions on accepting and starting teams as space and mentors are available. And as any startup working on something new, we will evolve as we see what works and what doesn’t.”

The New Offerings

Groundwork will now offer companies that are accepted:

• Desk space in Groundwork Labs – initially for 30 days and continuing as long as we both agree that the experience is valuable and the team continues to meet concrete monthly objectives
• Mentors and advisors, drawn from CED’s VMS and others
• Lean startup and agile development advice

“We will work with teams on their elevator pitch, on their plan, on their prototype– whichever is missing and most needed to advance their company,” Austin added.

Companies and entrepreneurs who are interested in the Groundwork program can apply now.

“Groundwork Labs will be active from now until August 18, at which time we will turn the space over to Joystick Labs for a three month video game session, and then return again in December,” Austin said.

TSF Update

Meanwhile, Chris Heivly says that a “slightly higher” number than expected have applied for the first round of TSF funding and its program. Heivly said “over 60 companies have applied” as of Thursday afternoon even though the group has been working with a “limited marketing window” between the announcement of starting business again and accepting applications.

“We expect another 30-plus at least,” he added.

TSF has already raised $5.5 million in funding. Heivly would not disclose who the investor is other than to say “a California investment group.”

The deadline to apply is Sunday, Feb. 12, at 11:59 p.m. Final selections will be announced Feb. 27.

TSF’s space for the new ventures – up to five – will be located in “Durham for sure,” he added. “No location as yet.”

(Note: Capitol Broadcasting, the parent of WRAL Tech Wire and WRAL.com, operates the American Tobacco Historic District and the American Underground.)

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