The last time I wrote about NC IDEA handing out up to $50K to deserving startups, I put the rest the idea that it’s the best kept secret in the North Carolina startup scene. It’s just no longer a secret. Too much good has come of it and too many viable companies have gotten their start thanks to NC IDEA.

It’s also evolving. While the notable trend from the last semester was that three of the five startups chosen had recently finished cycles at Triangle Startup Factory or Groundwork Labs, only one current recipient is a TSF grad.

In fact, they graduate today.

However, this time around, according to Idea Fund Partners’ Managing Partner Lister Delgado, both sets of 23 finalists and five winners are even more mature companies and more experienced entrepreneurs.

“This is good and bad for us,” Lister says. “Good because it means better companies, more solid ideas, more proven entrepreneurs. Bad because we want to keep encouraging those young dreamers to think big. If we don’t give them an opportunity, who will?”

No one epitomizes this trend more than Dov Cohn from PopUp, which offers a mobile platform to create, share, discover and consume place-relevant information.

I’ve known Dov since he was at Motricity, who was a client of mine in the early days and which, as Pinpoint, had been in the mobile technology space since 2000. He’s also been at West-coast mobile startup Zoove and he’s now at Pinpoint founder Jud Bowman’s next mobile company, Appia.

“I think the experience had a lot of influence on our selection,” Dov agreed. “I’ve been in mobile for 12 years now, starting with Pinpoint, which was one of the first app stores. It’s a business now, not just a novel app.”

Lucerno Dynamics is a medical device company that has developed patent-pending technology to provide oncologists an analysis of a tumor’s response to ongoing treatment early in a patient’s treatment course.

Lucerno’s Ronald Lattanze told me, “We have a remarkable device, already with human data, that meets a really important clinical need in oncology. And we have strong advisors helping a team with a great mix of entrepreneurial, corporate medical device, and international experience. We intend on making some more working prototype devices as soon as we can. This would allow us to reach out to other hospitals, engage them, and speed up the enrollment in our current trial.”

Arcametrics is said TSF graduate and also a former grant applicant. The company uses its patent-pending technology to connect data to build larger, more-predictive and thus lucrative target audiences for marketers.

Arcametrics’ Paolo DiVincenzo has done the startup before, going back to 1999, and for 7 years was founder and CEO of Exactly.

“We’ve been aggressive about building a pipeline early, and the market contact has been essential to our focus,” Paolo said. “When a panel like NC IDEA asks why we’ve done or not done something, we have a reasoned response forged by anecdotes from potential customers.”

MEFIVER wants to revolutionize denim manufacturing and rejuvenate the American textile industry with a more sustainable and innovative denim product. Together with their advisors, they have over 120 years of startup, fashion, and editorial experience.

Starfish grew out of 4 years of research at Duke University with a goal of making big data faster to run and easier to use.

So if I could disagree slightly with Lister, I think this is totally a good thing. All five companies are from the Triangle, and all of them have already started to build a track record. It shows there is a new depth here, and if the competition keeps heating up like this, the startups themselves will only get better.