There are a lot of opportunities these days for talented entrepreneurs in Raleigh or Durham to find help getting their product or service off the ground. It didn’t used to be so good, and one of the oldest programs serving entrepreneurs in North Carolina also happens to have done the most heavy lifting.

I used to call it “The best kept secret for North Carolina startups.” Now I just call it “That thing you better be applying for.”

NC IDEA, a not-for-profit offshoot of Durham-based VC Idea Fund Partners, has announced the award recipients of their grant program’s 15th cycle.

And they’re awesome.

The pool of 159 applicants was stronger than ever, according to Dave Rizzo, NC IDEA’s CEO and President. He also said that 57% of the applications came in from the Triangle, but applications from outside the area are increasing in competitiveness. Back in April, 30 finalists were selected, and we had already written about 10 of them.

So it stands to reason that the Spring 2013 winning five already have solid pedigrees and success stories.


Neurospire‘s Jake Stauch is a busy man. Back in March, less than a week after being featured in Popular Science, he was co-hosting this year’s Startup Madness competition in Raleigh, a competition he had won the previous year while still at Duke’s live-in incubator, inCube.

“Since then,” he said, “we’ve been focused on helping our international customers in Europe and Latin America get their neuromarketing operations up and running. We actually just did a study last week testing beer commercials in Ukraine.”

Neurospire makes a software platform that records the brainwaves of consumers, making it easy to gather consumer insights and test media campaigns — with brain scans. Yes, it is exactly as cool as it sounds.

While they continue to form partnerships with brands, they’re also improving the product and expanding its utilization.

“We’re exploring alternative uses of our underlying technology,” he added, “including neurofeedback therapy for alleviating symptoms of depression or ADHD.”


MyLearningID uses facial and voice recognition plus additional digital signatures to maintain academic integrity in distance education programs. In a quickly-expanding EdTech market, co-founder Velvet Nelson and team have hit upon a necessity that might not be new, but has become much more urgent. Nelson says they’ll use the funds to improve the product and expand sales outreach, and said funds will provide a much needed head start.

“We are just in the initial phases of development,” she said. “So this money will help us perfect our 1.0 release. Without these funds, we would have been severely limited on our development.”

MyLearningID is from Charlotte and came out of RevTech Labs’ 2013 class. Of note, fellow RevTech classmates eCampus and RewardSummit were also finalists.


BaseTrace is a big idea around a big controversy. Fracking is held up somewhere between energy independence for the USA and potentially poisoning our drinking water. BaseTrace is uncovering a process that can determine, simply, whether hydraulic fracturing fluid has migrated into drinking water, reducing litigation exposure for companies and improving relations with local communities.

Chief Regulatory Officer David Roche spoke highly of the impact of the grant and NC IDEA.

“The importance of NC IDEA to BaseTrace and other high-growth start-ups is right there in the name, “the focus on ideas,” said Roche. “BaseTrace started as an idea to confront the problem of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The grant is essential because it provides a base from which we can continue to grow and develop tracer technology that can solve previously intractable environmental problems.”


Durham-based INRFOOD is the latest company from Jaargon founder Keval Mehta. The company makes a smartphone app that analyzes the ingredients in your food (usually from scanning a bar code on the packaging) and advises you based on health aspects that you enter.

INRFOOD has also had a busy year, having been a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt and winning last year’s BCBS Health Innovation Challenge.

Novocor Medical Systems

Speaking of big ideas, Novocor wants to save lives. They’re developing a device that allows EMS workers to rapidly chill saline for injection into a cardiac arrest victim, inducing therapeutic hypothermia, and increasing the survival rate from 35% to over 50%.

The money will be used to, according to CEO Tony Voiers, “Quickly move our technology from the lab bench to a real-world prototype, which is the next big step in obtaining FDA approval.”

Voiers also echoes my sentiments about NC IDEA.

“The North Carolina entrepreneurial community is lucky to have the NC IDEA Grant,” he said. “They are one of the reasons that the local startup community is so vibrant with new companies and ideas.”


The thing I love the most about the NC IDEA grant is that it’s a grant, as in “to give,” with up to $50,000 going to five North Carolina startups every six months, along with partnerships, strategic alliances, and mentoring through R&D and acceleration.

The only strings attached are the development and completion of goals and milestones that NC IDEA works with the company to set as they prepare for angel or venture capital investment. Recent success stories are everywhere, from VC-backed Valencell, Automated Insights, Argyle Social, and a bunch more, to others like BoostSuite and Archive Social who keep piling up wins.