Seed Grant Program

Q: When is the deadline for applying for a Seed Grant?

NC IDEA solicits Seed Grant applications twice per year, typically in February and again in August. Applications are typically open for 4 weeks. The deadline for applying for an NC IDEA Seed Grant will be clearly stated throughout our website and on the application itself. Submissions after the stated deadline will not be accepted. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Q: How do I apply for an NC IDEA Seed Grant?

NC IDEA uses an application portal that allows applicants to work online and create an account so applications may be saved, reviewed and submitted. The application will open two times during the year; once in the Spring and again in the Fall. When actively working in the platform, your work will be automatically be saved every 2 minutes. Though we trust that this information will be fully saved when you return to the system, we always recommend each company saves all information in a separate document.

Q: Is my company a competitive candidate for the NC IDEA Seed Grant?

Our Seed Grant program is targeted to innovative, scalable companies based in the state of North Carolina.

While we do not limit grant funding to specific sectors, our most competitive applicants are from emerging, high-growth industries. These often include clean/greentech, digital hardware, consumer products, digital hardware, digital media, healthcare IT, medical devices, medical diagnostics, nanotechnology, semi-conductors, social media and software.

Competitive candidates also demonstrate a high level of intellectual property (patents, trade secret, copyrights) or a significant and sustainable competitive advantage. Retail stores, restaurants and other lifestyle companies, including consulting firms, fall out of the scope of the NC IDEA Seed Grant and will not be considered.

Q: How does NC IDEA define a scalable company?

NC IDEA’s mission is to foster economic development in North Carolina by helping young startups commercialize their innovations. While we recognize the importance of all entrepreneurship to North Carolina’s economy, our grant program is staged as a catalyst for technological breakthrough and high-growth enterprises that will create jobs and generate outside capital into the state’s economy. Our ideal company will play a major role in helping us achieve our mission.

All of our grant recipients have a business model that supports high-growth, with a majority of companies eventually requiring subsequent capital from outside, institutional investors (including angels, venture capitalist).

Q: Is my company ready to receive a grant?

Our optimal stage of development is between proof of concept and the first round of institutional funding. Successful companies have achieved a moderate degree of objective and measurable market validation from customers or industry experts. It is also crucial that, by the time you complete your pre-proposal, applicants can concisely articulate their company’s target market, a customer/industry problem and demonstrate significant market potential.

Historically, a number of our unsuccessful applicants were simply too early in their company’s development (of those we highly recommend applying to Groundwork Labs); however, it is possible that your company is too mature to receive our funds directed toward early stage startups. Though we do not determine a company’s eligibility based upon previously raised capital, those receiving greater than $250,000 in investment at the time of applying, particularly from sophisticated angels or institutional investors, are less likely to be considered.

Q: How can I increase my chances of moving on past the pre-proposal phase of the grant application process?

When submitting a pre-proposal, please remember that this is your first impression to the reviewers and often our only exposure to your company. Some of our most competitive candidates use the NC IDEA application as an opportunity to re-address and refine specific components of their business model. As a result, the application may often take a considerable amount of time as you work with your team and advisors.

We HIGHLY recommend that you review your application for both clarity of thought, concise/well-articulated concepts and general proofreading errors. We ask that you thoroughly evaluate your eligibility for the program prior to applying.

Q: What is the intended use of funds for an NC IDEA Seed Grant?

Our seed grant is intended to help young ventures overcome the often high barriers encountered by funding gaps, specifically those prior to raising outside funding. The funds from the program are intended to accelerate the growth of your company including further validation of market potential, providing financial assistance for dedicated personnel and advancing projects to the point where they are suitable to raise additional capital.

Some examples of uses of funds from our past grant recipients include website/application development, prototype development, A/B testing services, marketing services, legal services (including intellectual property related costs), business development expenses (including travel and tradeshow attendance), consultant fees and salaries for new hires.

Groundwork Labs

Q: Is Groundwork Labs an accelerator?

Like an accelerator, we are selective, mentor-driven, intense, and time limited.  But we do not invest nor take equity in the company—we offer our program for free.  Our only stake is in the success of the entrepreneurs that we serve.  This important distinction as a trusted advisor empowers us in the following ways:

  • We are invested only in the success of the founder(s), whether that be with the company/idea they bring to Groundwork Labs, or the one they form later based on the expertise they gain in Groundwork.
  • We can remain a trusted advisor long after they have completed their time in Groundwork Labs.
  • We can give unvarnished opinions on the entrepreneur and their company to potential investors since we have no financial interest in the company.
Q: How do you decide who is accepted into Groundwork Labs?

Approximately one in eight teams who apply are accepted. The three most critical factors are the people, the idea, and the market.  We also consider whether Groundwork has the capabilities and expertise to fill whatever gaps your company has.

First and foremost, we’re looking for great founders and teams.  We realize your idea may change over time and so we look for folks who are stubborn enough to persevere and flexible enough to pivot when needed – and above all are committed to what will be a very challenging road ahead.

We are happy to accept an incomplete team, even a solo founder.  We can be a valuable resource in helping you find co-founders.

We look for a sizable and/or growing market, a unique idea that gives you a competitive advantage, and a plausible revenue model.

Q: Are there any other requirements ?

Our guidelines are somewhat broader than NC IDEA’s grant program.  We are looking for companies who have potential for high growth and who would benefit from three months in Groundwork Labs.

You must be committed to full time participation in Groundwork Labs.  If you are only working on your startup part-time, apply to Groundwork After Hours.

We will not accept consulting or service based businesses, or small businesses such as a retail store or restaurant, or sales/marketing companies.  Companies that have high capital requirements and many years to product and revenue such as pharmaceutical companies are less likely to be accepted as three months in Groundwork will not significantly impact the company.  If you are not sure, apply and we can let you know right away.

Q: How many teams will you select?

Typically 5-8 teams are in each cohort.  Groundwork After Hours typically has 8-10 teams.

Q: Does my startup have to be incorporated?


Q: Is acceptance into Groundwork Labs required to win an NC IDEA grant?

No.  Although we share an application process, these are two separate programs and decisions.  The progress you make while in Groundwork should position you more favorably to win a grant, but there are no guarantees.

Q: Does Groundwork Labs cost anything?

No, we do not make an investment nor do we take any equity in your company.  We do expect that you will give back to the entrepreneurial community in some way – whether that be mentoring another startup, or after you have had a successful exit, making an angel investment in a North Carolina startup or a donation to the NC IDEA Foundation.


Q: Is SoarTriangle an accelerator?

No, we are a mentorship program that focuses on helping female entrepreneurs raise capital. We pair female CEOs and Founders with mentors and advisors that will help them raise capital and strength their businesses, and we create an environment where women can build community with their peers. 

Q: Is SoarTriangle a networking group for female entrepreneurs?

No, we are a mentorship program that focuses on helping a selected group of female entrepreneurs raise capital.

Q: Do I need to be full time to be accepted?

Yes. The main participant in Soar, typically the CEO of the company, must be committed full time to the company.

Q: What is the program’s time commitment?

We expect Soar CEOs/ Founders to come to Durham approximately twice a month for meetings with mentors and community-building events/ workshops. We expect participants to be available during business hours.

Q: Does the SoarTriangle program cost anything?

No, the program is free. We expect the companies who take part to be active participants and provide feedback on their experience so we can constantly improve. We also expect that you will give back to the entrepreneurial community in some way – whether that be mentoring another startup, or after you have had a successful exit, making an angel investment in a North Carolina startup or a donation to the NC IDEA Foundation.

Q: Does SoarTriangle provide capital?

We do not invest nor take equity in the company—we offer our program for free.  Our only stake is in the success of the entrepreneurs that we serve.

Q: How do you decide who is accepted into SoarTriangle?

Companies accepted into SoarTriangle must be led by a woman and must be scalable. We will not accept consulting businesses, or small businesses such as a retail store or restaurant. Soar companies must have enough traction to raise capital from local angel investors and/ or venture capitalists.

Q: How many teams will you select?

Each cohort runs for six months, and we usually accept 6-8 companies per cohort.

Ecosystem Partner Program

Q: Who is eligible to apply for an Ecosystem Partner Grant?

We invite proposals from both nonprofit and for profit organizations within North Carolina.

Q: What types of entities are not eligible to apply or be awarded an Ecosystem Partner Grant?

The following organizations are not eligible to be awarded an Ecosystem Partner Grant: endowments, capital campaigns or other fundraising events, lobby organizations, political parties or labor organizations, fraternal groups, and individuals

Q: Are municipalities eligible to apply for an Ecosystem Partner Grant?

Yes, municipalities are eligible to apply for an Ecosystem Partner Grant.

Q: How does my organization apply for the Ecosystem Partner Grant?

During an active application solicitation, all interested candidates must follow our described process and submit their Ecosystem Partner Grant via NC IDEA’s online grant application platform. NC IDEA will not accept applications via email, fax, mail or in-person. The Ecosystem Partner Grant application has two parts. Part I consists of answering basic questions directly within the online application. Part II is a Microsoft Word document (proposal template) applicants will need to complete. Once completed in Microsoft Word, applicants will convert the document to a PDF and upload to our online platform. There is a third (optional) part allowing applicants to upload one additional file (up to 3 pages) or provide a video link (up to 3 minutes).

Q: Is there a deadline for applying for the Ecosystem Partner Grant?

During an active application solicitation, the deadline for applying for an NC IDEA Ecosystem Partner Grant will be clearly stated throughout our website and on the application itself. Submissions after the stated deadline will not be accepted. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Q: Can an organization submit multiple Ecosystem Partner Grant applications?

NC IDEA would encourage organizations to coordinate their application efforts. In the event that multiple applications are received from the same organization, each application will be considered independently. At the discretion of the Foundation and based upon applications received, NC IDEA may suggest that multiple applications be combined/revised.

Q: At what stage of development is NC IDEA most interested in supporting with the Ecosystem Partner Grant: 1) preliminary plans only just beginning; or 2) programs already in place?

With regard to receiving proposals that request funds for new programs versus existing programs, NC IDEA does not have a biased or preference. We are looking for the most innovative proposals that best address our defined evaluation criteria (Alignment, Ability to Execute, Outcomes & Metrics, Sustainability, Leverage and Timing).

Q: Can updates be made to applications once they have been submitted?

No. Once you submit an application, you may not make further edits or updates.

Q: Is there a specific format that must be followed for the proposal document?

Yes, there is a proposal template that must be used and followed. The proposal template has specific questions to answer and also includes two appendices at the end of the document. Appendix 1 is for listing budget items, including requested scheduled payments and amounts. It is required and must be kept to one page. Appendix 2 is optional (must also be kept to one page) and is where you should include references or graphs/charts/pictures that you would like to reference within the proposal. An applicant’s proposal can be no longer than 10 pages in total, not including the two appendices. You MUST maintain the format of the proposal template. DO NOT remove or add any sections. DO NOT change the font (including size) or margins of the template.

Q: What happens if my organization’s proposal is over 10 pages (not including the two appendices)?

NC IDEA reserves the right to disqualify any applicant or reject an application for failure to follow instructions or adhere to the formatting requirements, including page limit restrictions. Please DO NOT submit a proposal that is over 10 pages in total, not including the two appendices.

Q: What criteria is NC IDEA considering when evaluating Ecosystem Partner Grant applications?

Grant applications will be subjectively evaluated using the following criteria. Other factors may be considered at the sole discretion of NC IDEA.

  • Alignment – Will the proposed grant outcomes further NC IDEA’s mission? Do the proposed activities complement NC IDEA’s strategies?
  • Ability to Execute – Can the applicant’s team successfully execute the program? Does the applicant’s team have a track record?
  • Outcomes & Metrics – What are the specific outcomes proposed? Will milestones and metrics validate the outcomes?
  • Sustainability – How will this program be sustained into the future?
  • Leverage – To what extent is NC IDEA’s participation leveraged? Will other resources (and/or partner organizations) complement the activities proposed?
  • Timing – Is this the right moment to be executing this program? Are there other time specific dependencies?
Q: Do any of the bullet points from page 1 of the RFP document weigh more heavily than others in terms of supporting the mission of NC IDEA?

NC IDEA believes it is a combination of all of these things that allow us to best achieve our mission. It is not expected that a proposal from a potential partner will address all of these things at once, but that it will align with the overall mission of the organization.

Q: When will our organization hear from NC IDEA regarding our application?

NC IDEA will be evaluating all submissions and performing due diligence, which may or may not include requesting additional information from applicants. During an active application cycle, NC IDEA will clearly state the notification dates on the website.

Q: Should our organization win an award, what kind of post-award reporting will be required?

NC IDEA will work directly with each recipient of an Ecosystem Partner Grant to formalize a grant schedule that outlines the distribution of funds, the timing of those distributions and the associated milestones. Written report(s) and in-person update(s) will be required based on the grant schedule and the specifics of each grant.

Q: How much funding can an organization request in their Ecosystem Partner Grant application?

Applicants may request any amount of funding up to but not exceeding $250,000. Scheduled payments should align with specific activities, and funding may be allocated up to but not exceeding 36 months from grant award.

Q: What is the best way to present our funding needs and request?

Applications should contain detailed information regarding how requested funding is to be used. Applications should demonstrate need for the activities being proposed within the communities applicants serve.

In cases where funding is being requested to support multiple activities, please be clear how much funding is required per activity and whether or not each activity could be discretely (considered) supported and/or if there are co-dependencies between activities proposed. Activities/programs should be ordered in highest to lowest priority ranking.

Q: Can funds be requested to cover an organization or university’s overhead or indirect costs?

Yes. Funds can be requested to cover overhead or indirect costs. However, keep in mind that NC IDEA is evaluating the impact of the funds against the eligibility criteria (Alignment, Ability to Execute, Outcomes & Metrics, Sustainability, Leverage and Timing) listed above and in context of other grant requests received.

Q: Are applicants expected to commit matching funds?

No. Applicants are not required to commit matching funds. However, we are considering the extent to which our funding may induce the deployment of additional resources. Therefore, it is likely that your application will be more favorably reviewed if NC IDEA was not the sole source of funding for the program/s proposed.