The Durham-based NC IDEA Foundation has sniffed out 100 million-dollar ideas.
The independent private foundation’s grants have provided the state’s entrepreneurs with capital since 2006. Almost 20 years later, its 2024 grant cycle has almost begun, as entrepreneurs gather their resources to apply for either $10,000 or $50,000 in nondilutive funding.
On Monday, the foundation visited the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to inform an audience of the region's budding founders about the upcoming grant cycle.
Leaders from NC IDEA laid out defined components of a startup that show it is ready to receive one of the foundation’s grants:
- The team leading the company must be committed and capable (and based in North Carolina).
- The startup must prove it has achieved recent momentum and traction in its target market.
- The applicant must demonstrate how the grant will move the business forward, how they will track their progress, what milestones are they trying to reach and why now is the right time for the grant to go to their company.
Each year, the industry-agnostic foundation awards 12 SEED grants to early-stage startups that have proven a concept and 30 micro grants to young startups that still need to prove their concept. The grants earn the recipient $50,000 and $10,000, respectively. The micro grant includes a mentorship program.
Each year contains two cohorts in the fall and spring. This year’s spring cohort application opens on Jan. 29 and closes on Feb. 26. The 15 micro recipients will be awarded in April and the six SEED recipients in May.
William Baird, founder of Wilmington-based Boreas Monitoring Solutions and recent winner of a SEED grant, presented at Monday's event to give listeners advice.
Baird advised to stay persistent, as his company was passed over on its first attempt at the grant. He also encouraged the audience to reach out to leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“It’s almost like a support group, right?” he said. “Because being a founder is extremely tough.”
The process of filling out the application is beneficial in itself, Baird told the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
“It’s like filling out a college application times 100,” he said.
If a founder has never written down their company’s mission, completing the application process and being forced to do so can help clear up any hesitancy or uncertainty in their messaging, he said.
NC IDEA is funded through an endowment initially created by the state, said presenter and senior director, Amy Bastian. The foundation was spun out of the Microelectronic Center of North Carolina in 2005.
The foundation has since doled out 362 micro and seed grants, according to Bastian. About 77% of companies are still active or have been acquired, based on a survey the organization sends to grantees. Of those grantees, 71 have raised more than $1 million in total funding and 29 have raised more than $5 million.
Jim Roberts, founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, is an application reviewer for NC IDEA and was present at the presentation on Monday. He emphasized the competitive nature of the application process.
“You do have some champions in the room,” he said. “The better we know you the better we can fight for you … There are investors that are judges. So if you give a great presentation when it comes to that time, this can serve as real validation for a statewide [group] of investors.”
Bastian ensured all reviewers sign nondisclosure agreements and conflict of interest disclosures throughout the application process. She added that connections within the entrepreneurship community are a benefit but not a requirement.