DURHAM – NC IDEA wants to educate 100,000 North Carolinians with an “entrepreneurial mindset” by 2025.

It’s an ambitious goal, but the private foundation has got a plan.

In partnership with the partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI), the group kicked off its statewide roll out of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program (IHEP) this week – an experimental, problem-based program designed to inspire and engage learners in the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

Over the next three days, its first cohort – around 50 participants from a cross-section of sectors around the state – will gather at the Durham Convention to train as facilitators, later returning to their constituents to deploy the course.

“It’s kind of top of the funnel strategy so that we can empower as many people as possible,” said NC IDEA’s CEO Thom Ruhe.

NC IDEA CEO Thom Ruhe training facilitators of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program (IHEP) in Durham this week.

On Thursday night, December 13, NC IDEA will also hold a special launch event at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

Among the speakers will be ELI founder and co-author of IHEP, Gary Schoeniger, who will discuss the power of mindset education and the potential for economic impact — not just at startups, but in established businesses, philanthropy, and government agencies.


“In today’s world, in a global gig economy where technology is changing literally almost every day, an entrepreneurial mindset is going to be a survivor skill,” Ruhe said.

“We are trying to empower everybody in NC to be able realize their full entrepreneurial potential. This program, from I know and what I’ve done, is the most powerful tool for reaching the most number of possible people, which is why we’ve brought it here.”

NC’s distressed communities

According to the Economic Innovation Group’s Distressed Communities Index, North Carolina has 22.8 percent of its population living in a distressed zip code.

Compare that to the national average of 14.5 percent, and it becomes clear that the state has some work to do when it comes addressing this disparity.

“One in four North Carolinians are not engaged in the wondrous economy that people in the Triangle and Triad are benefiting from,” said Ruhe. “We can’t have this bipolar approach to economic development in the state. That is why NC IDEA is bringing this program.”

IHEP was originally conceived at the Kauffman Foundation where Ruhe helped launch the program back in 2010.

Since then, it has been taught around the world and can be delivered in several formats: online or classroom, boot camp, multi-week or as a semester class.

Ruhe believes once people become empowered with entrepreneurial skills, it has a knock-on effect for the rest of the state.

“Some percent of them do wonderful things that we can’t even imagine yet. Once they flip the switch, they will go do things that will hopefully have a statewide network of organizations like ours to help them along the way, and it will start including more people in the state in this entrepreneurial renaissance that is happening.”

NC IDEA is an independent private foundation committed to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic advancement in North Carolina. Over the last decade, the NC IDEA SEED program has awarded nearly $6 million in non-dilutive grants to 136 growth-oriented companies across the state, and most recently awarded nearly $150,000 in 15 micro-grants through NC IDEA MICRO.