Editor’s note: Thom Ruhe is CEO of the NC IDEA Foundation.

DURHAM – As a son of immigrants, the uniquely American holidays were revered growing up; namely, Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Thanksgiving was particularly sacrosanct for being a time to be thankful for the opportunity to pursue the American Dream, while also remembering that the founding of our nation was accomplished by immigrants.

Relatedly, we would do well to remember that almost half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by American immigrants, or their children.

My other favored holiday (next week) has become so based upon my own proclivity for equating entrepreneurship with independence. I have experienced and witnessed people attaining financial independence through their entrepreneurial exploits. For the countless more that have supported entrepreneurs and their nascent ventures, they too have enjoyed economic stability through the jobs they helped create.

I realize that entrepreneurship isn’t the first patriotic impression for most people. But I would suggest that starting and growing companies strengthens and (economically) defends our nation.

Coincidentally, many of the skills that have best served me as an entrepreneur were acquired compliments of Uncle Sam.

So, it is fitting that as we prepare to celebrate our independence and honor the many brave men and women that facilitated it, we announce today the second iteration of our NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM Grant Program.

We are inviting proposals from organizations within North Carolina that primarily help people start and grow high potential firms. We are particularly interested in proposals from organizations that serve under-resourced entrepreneurs who demonstrate an ambition to build seven figure companies and/or employ more than 50 people within 5-7 years.

Of the many things we have learned over the last two years, one thing is clear; we have great untapped entrepreneurial capacity in North Carolina. So, if we wish to strengthen the state, we will have to help more people reach for the brass rings of success.

Organizations who primarily serve audiences of high technology, venture-backable businesses may apply but are advised that the number of grants targeted for that sector will be limited, due to the volume of groups that already serve such firms. Likewise, organizations working with small and lifestyle businesses are not the focus of this program, as we believe there are other entities around the state that are also serving these firms.

Applicants may request any amount of funding up to but not exceeding $100,000 of total funding over one year, or spread over three years. Grant award notifications are anticipated in mid-September. For detailed criteria and to apply, visit www.ncidea.org. Final submissions are due Wednesday, July 25 at 5 pm EST.

[NC IDEA awarded more than $1.3 million in funding through more than 10 grants in 2017.]