John Austin Groundwork Labs 2014

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Groundwork Labs Executive Director John Austin hates to leave people out, especially if their startup ideas are good ones. So the free Durham accelerator is offering local innovators something new this fall—flexibility. 

Groundwork Labs After Hours is a new program aimed toward entrepreneurs who are unable to commit to the full-time, three-month Groundwork Labs program. It happens in the evenings over a five-week period. The application deadline is this Sunday, July 26. 

Since 2012, the NC IDEA-funded program has built a reputation for helping entrepreneurs test their ideas and providing expert guidance before they journey into the market. 

More than 85 companies have been through the full-time program. 10 of those companies have won NC IDEA grants and 12 have been accepted into accelerators that provide funding (often in return for equity). After their time in Groundwork, at least 20 teams have raised more than $3 million in equity and $1.5 million in grants. 

But Austin always felt bad when he had to deny potentially scalable businesses because the entrepreneur could not yet leave his or her full-time job. 

The new program will allow entrepreneurs in the ideation phase of their startup to test the potential market and business plan to see if it’s worthy of full-time commitment, says Reagan Reynolds, Groundwork’s community manager. 

Over five weeks, up to eight entrepreneurs will perform customer discovery, build or work on a minimum viable product and discuss or begin fundraising, all with the help of mentors. Participants will meet weekly for two hours and independent work will be assigned between sessions. 

By the end of the program, entrepreneurs who are not already pursing their startup full-time should be prepared to devote more time to it and/or to raise money, apply to an accelerator or for an NC IDEA grant or to bootstrap to revenue. 

Others will discover the idea does not hold merit or they don’t want to start a company, freeing them to work on another idea or move on to something else. 

“We believe this will help potential entrepreneurs with excellent startup ideas take the next step forward,” says Reynolds. 

Groundwork Labs typically receives between 20 and 30 applications for each full-time program. At least that many people are expected to apply to this one—25 people came to an information session as Groundwork considered creating the program. 

Ideal candidates will have technology-based product ideas with the potential to become scalable businesses. Reynolds says that several factors are taken into consideration when reviewing applications—the team (or background of the founder), the potential market-value of the idea and the significance of the problem or innovation the startup is focused on. 

Application reviewers also try to predict the specific impact the experience could have on that startup before making selections. 

“If you have an idea for a startup, but you are unsure if Groundwork Labs is right for your company, apply anyways,” encourages Reynolds, who says the application really helps the team determine the potential benefit to companies. 

“It takes a community to build a business and we are here to jumpstart that process,” she says. 

The five-week program begins August 18. Apply here.