Budding bioscience ventures in southeastern North Carolina can raise their visibility, gain mentoring, make connections and compete for up to $20,000 in awards this spring through a new program developed by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and supported by local partners.

The NC BIONEER Venture Challenge is accepting company applications throughout the rest of February. The competition, created by the Biotech Center’s Southeastern Office in Wilmington, received lead partnership support from the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center as a key supporting partner.

“This program will showcase the region’s technology and talent pipeline, support entrepreneurial ventures and help young companies attract investment,” said Randall Johnson, executive director of NCBiotech’s Southeastern Office. “The long-term goal is to boost the commercialization of bioscience innovations and create high-paying jobs.”

Any bioscience-related business with a physical presence in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Hoke, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson or Scotland counties is eligible to apply for the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge. Online applications will be accepted through Feb. 28 on the competition’s website, https://ncbioneer.com.

A panel of experts will review applications and select four finalists to participate in two months of mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs. Potential mentors can apply for the role through a separate application on the website.

The mentoring will begin on March 19 and culminate on May 19 with a business-pitch competition. The venture that wins the top award will receive a $20,000 grant and a one-year co-working tenancy at UNCW’s CIE. The runner-up will receive $10,000, and the other two finalists will receive $5,000 each. The funding is being provided by NCBiotech, UNCW and New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Finalists will receive other benefits, including networking opportunities and assistance from the Biotech Center’s Life Science Intelligence team, which provides entrepreneurs and companies with information, analysis and resources to make informed strategic decisions.

“The pitch competition, mentoring and other benefits are designed to help prepare entrepreneurs to attract funding such as grants, angel capital or venture capital,” Johnson said. “The idea is to help these companies accelerate their growth and development.”

Bioscience ventures and those that support life sciences and biotech through equipment, technology platforms and software applications are eligible for the program. Ventures may be related to a broad range of biotech-related innovations and applications including agriculture, bioenergy, health, advanced materials, industrial biotech, technology or marine biotech.