Let’s take a look at who won the big (up to $250,000) grants in the new Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Partner program.
NC IDEA is going to provide nearly $1.2 million in funding to a variety of startup and entrepreneurial efforts across N.C., the foundation announced Wednesday.
In an exclusive Q&A, Thom Ruhe, CEO of NC IDEA, explains why these groups (American, Underground, Catawba Valley Community College, the CED, Triangle Venture Alliance, First Flight Venture Center, HQ Raleigh, NC RIoT, UNC Charlotte and the Greensboro partnership Entrepreneurs Connection) were awarded grants.
Several of these programs are new; others are evolving. By applying for the grants, each submitted an RFP, spelling out plans and objectives. After conducting due diligence of some 50 RFPs, NC IDEA chose nine winners.
Here are the winners and Ruhe’s explanations with details coming in large part from information the applicants provided in their RFPS. (HQ Raleigh’s award for its Business Accelerator Model, or BAM, program is featured separately due to the scope of its offerings.)
- American Underground – $100,000 for STAMPEDE, an incubation program for consumer product companies
Q: What does NC IDEA find most appeal about this RFP, and why a focus on consumer product companies? How many startups are envisioned?
A. STAMPEDE has the potential to draw participation from not only within NC, but from other parts of the country as well. Focusing on consumer product companies allows the effort to better serve the unique needs of these types of startups.
- Catawba Valley Community College – $150,000 for StartHub NC, a three-part effort including: Innovation Fund NC, Entrepreneur in Residence program, and Talent JAM
Q. What’s Talent JAM? Why is this RFP appealing?
A: CVCC’s proposed project, tentatively named “StartHub NC,” is a planned evolution of three successful, entrepreneurial initiatives that started at CVCC in 2013 and have continuously been developing to the present.
Those initiatives are (i) Innovation Fund North Carolina (IFNC) (ii) Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program and (iii) Talent Jam Western North Carolina.
Additionally, they are going to coordinate with 5 other community colleges in western NC on these activities.
As for Talent Jam in particular, these are events that informally bring together founders, potential investors and employees, and other individuals interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Talent Jam isa business-focused mash-up of speed dating, job fair and a networking event.
It’s a modern take on the classic job fair, where both (startup) companies and local workers will present one-minute pitches of their needs or talents followed by casual networking, all while enjoying great local food and drink.
- CED – $150,000 for continued support of the Connections to Capital program
Q. What are the impact points about this program you like and want to encourage? How does CED plan to invest the funds, based on the grant?
The Connections to Capital program provides vital data about deal flow and funding sources that are supporting startups in the state. It provides insights into the types of activities and programs that may attract more deal flow.
- $150,000 for the Triangle Venture Alliance, a network of Angel Networks at UNC CH, NC State and Duke University
Q. Why fund this program since, obviously, they are angel groups which mean each is supported by wealthy (accredited) investors? How will the funds be spent? Staff? Infrastructure?
A. We are funding this activity because it is expanding to include additional universities (other than Duke), and it is a template for yet other universities to do likewise. Our money is partially funding the directors at the three schools for the first two years of operations.
- First Flight Venture Center – $100,000 for LiftOff, a non-dilutive funding support program for innovation-based companies
Q. So who will pick the receiving companies? How will this program differ from your own NC IDEA grant program? What do you like about this program and First Flight in general?
A. First Flight has an application process for selecting participating companies. This program is unique in that most of the companies served by FFVC are working to commercialize “high science.”
High Science tech companies are generally pursuing opportunities born in laboratories, often requiring patience for lab time and experimentation – which can be expensive. There are however federal sources of R&D resources (most commonly STTR and SBIR) that are non-diluting and specifically earmarked for advancing the science. It is a competitive process (nationally) however and we are funding them to provide assistance for companies to more effectively compete for these resources.
- NC RIoT – $100,000 for events, training, promotion, and talent attraction statewide for the Internet of Things (IoT) sector
Q. RIoT is growing extremely fast. What do you like about this organization and how do you see this funding help in its expansion/growth?
A. RiOT has been incredibly resourceful and great stewards of resources. They have, in a relatively short time, established NC as a national thought leader in Internet of Things sector.
Like STAMPEDE, this activity has the potential to attract people from outside the state, and has appeal to large established businesses and startups alike. It is a great opportunity for corporate engagement with and in support of entrepreneurs.
- Ventureprise – UNC Charlotte $75,000 for Ventureprise Launch, a program focusing on customer discovery, business model generation, and related lean start-up methodologies
Q. What’s the appeal on the UNC C program? What are “lean startup methodologies”?
A. Ventureprise Launch, will support (in Charlotte) innovators and entrepreneurs in customer discovery, business model generation, and related lean start-up methodologies. Definitions of lean startup methodologies vary slightly (originally defined by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf) but are generally considered to focus on validating assumptions, seeking definitive customer validation, and experimenting with minimally viable products (MVPs).
You can find more information from many sites but here is a good summation: http://theleanstartup.com/principles
- The Greensboro Partnership Entrepreneurs Connection – $250,000 for a multifaceted (multi-partner) start-up company pipeline development and a seed stage funding mechanism.
Q. That’s a lot of money. Why so much? What’s the appeal(s) of this program, given your level of support compared to other projects funded? Who is leading this effort?
We received several proposals from the Triad, with a fair degree of overlap AND complimentary activities. During our due diligence, I asked the Greensboro Partnership to host a meeting of all the applicants (which occurred on 6/10) and we discussed as a community what might best serve the region.
I then asked them to submit a revised proposal on behalf of the region, managing amongst themselves which organizations (individuals) would provide the services needed. This is why they received the largest funding, to cover the involvement of several partners in service of the region.