Emerging from its own type of stealth mode, the Durham-based new business accelerator helped launch three firms that also received grants from NC IDEA last month.

Gema Touch, Impulsonic and Motaavi each received mentoring, advice and other support as they geared for launch.

Director John Austin, who also runs Joystick Labs, provided The Skinny with an update on Groundworks. Groundworks was announced late last year after the closure of the new business accelerator LaunchBox. When the Triangle Startup Factory kicked off in January, Groundworks refocused its efforts away from an investment model. Its parallel operation, Joystick Labs, also has rebooted a bit, no longer taking equity stakes in startups, Austin says.

How is the program structured now?

Groundwork Labs is a “no strings attached” community accelerator funded by NC IDEA and Capitol Broadcasting Company. Our focus is on companies that are very early stage.

NC IDEA’s grant program has become hugely successful and with that success has come increased competition – there were more than 180 applications for the five grants that were recently awarded. With each NC IDEA cycle the bar has been raised – last fall an award was made to a company with revenue and another to a company that had been through an accelerator.

We wanted to impact more companies at an earlier stage by providing them resources to win one of those grants, get their first seed funding, or gain a spot in an accelerator (also extremely competitive – Triangle Startup Factory had more than 100 applications for their initial class).

What services are provided?

We provide everything a company would expect in a three month accelerator program:

• Mentors and advisors
• A “Guru Desk” – each afternoon an expert in a particular field (legal, branding, PR, go-to-market, …) is available for consultation –
• Help with whatever is needed – the plan, pitch, or business model
• Connections to angel investors and the entrepreneurial community
• Desk space in an energetic environment alongside other startups – the American Underground

And there are a few differences:

• We do not invest in the companies
• We do not take an equity stake
• Instead of a fixed start date, companies begin their three month stint when they are ready and we have room
• We do not require (though it is beneficial) a full time commitment from all team members. We understand that at this early stage some of the founders may still require a “day job”.

How many companies have been selected?

We have worked with 16 companies since February – five have moved on and 11 are still active in the lab.

Three of those companies, Gema Touch, Impulsonic, and Motavi have been selected for NC IDEA grants. Two companies, Impulsonic and Mint Market, were selected for the Blackstone Entrepreneurial Network.

Sqord has landed a $50,000 grant from the Active Schools Acceleration project, and Rheti has landed a seed round.

Empty Flask Games is about to ship their first iOS game, Infinite Warrior.

Are there deadlines for application?

We have “rolling admissions” – companies can apply at any time. We review the application, and based on our evaluation, place the company on a prioritized waiting list. As we have space and resources we take the next team on the list.

How do they apply?

We have a simple application on the Groundwork Labs website: www.groundworklabs.com.

There is also a checkbox on the NC IDEA grant application that enables a company to express interest in Groundwork Labs when they apply for a grant. The next NC IDEA cycle opens in August.

With these firms selected and with the first “class” through the Triangle Startup Factory, how are the two programs meshing? Any conflicts? Or more complimentary perhaps than first thought?

Having the two programs side by side in the Underground just increases the density of startups, the energy, and the interaction amongst the teams. The programs are very complementary.

In fact, two of our teams were recommended to us by Chris Heivly and Dave Neal, and several of our teams have applied for spots in Triangle Startup Factory. Our teams are typically a little earlier stage than TSF – for example, not all the founders are full-time – and we will consider some companies that are outside the scope of TSF.

What’s up with Joystick— next group due in? How many applicants? When will choices be announced?

Joystick has been very successful at accelerating startup game studios. Two of the three games that were shipped – Saturday Morning RPG and MUSE – have received excellent reviews.

One of our studies received a seed round of funding and another is close to shipping a great game. Unfortunately, making money in the mobile games market is really challenging right now. It is a crowded space that is driven by hits and you have to take a lot of shots on goal (Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game!).

So Joystick will focus on what we’ve done successfully – get a studio going – and adopt the Groundwork Labs business model: mentorship, space, advice, but no investment nor equity/royalty stake.

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