Five startups are about to have their plans altered this morning. NC IDEA will shortly announce that they’ve won a grant of up to $50,000. I spoke to all five over the weekend about a program that’s become possibly the best and most efficient seed stage startup boost in the nation.

Yeah, I said the nation.

And I know from experience.

At my startup, Automated Insights, the NC IDEA grant allowed founder Robbie Allen to break free from the corporate world and focus on Ai (then StatSheet) without giving up any equity.

In the less than five years since, we’ve raised over $5 million, grown to 23 people, and have recurring customers like Yahoo, Microsoft, Bloomberg, and a few others who are too awesome to mention.

It all started with that grant (Spring 2009).

It’s an idea, pardon the pun, perfect for the Triangle — an area known for talent, brains, and work ethic but not so much for seed or post-seed capital. The grant puts 10 to 12 deserving startups on the NC map each year, some of which might not have been there otherwise.

I brought this to NC IDEA CEO and President Dave RIzzo, and he agreed.

“Ultimately when we select grant recipients,” he said, “we award funding to those companies where we feel our grant dollars will allow a company to build upon their momentum and increase its trajectory in a meaningful way and impactful way.”

That doesn’t mean you have to be completely starting from scratch, nor should you be. In fact, all of the recipients have some prior background from customers to accelerators.


“This was our second time applying,” said FokusLabs CEO Rich Brancaccio. “We got out of the office and into the Triangle entrepreneurial community through Groundwork Labs. John Austin and company were immensely helpful in shortening our learning curve.”

Fokus Labs is a Wake Forest company whose tactile wristband increases time spent learning and completing work. Specially designed with autism and ADHD in mind, the wristband can be worn by anyone. They’ll use the money to refine their prototypes into production grade units and conduct a trial.

It should also be noted that Brancaccio taught himself programming and electronics in order to build the prototypes.

Guerrilla RF

Also from outside the Triangle, Summerfield’s Guerrilla RF offers high performance Radio Frequency (RF) microchips used in wireless data applications.

“This is our first grant funding,” said founder and CEO Ryan Pratt. “The company was started in April of this year and has just myself as a full time employee. As for other startup programs, we are currently located in the Nussbaum Incubator in Greensboro, participated in the 2013 Triad Startup Lab accelerator, and won first place in the 2013 Capital Connects pitch event.”

Having just spoken to young entrepreneurs in Greensboro, I can tell you it’s like Durham three-to-five years ago, and it’s great to see more and more companies coming out of there.

And as for trajectory, “Winning the grant funds will allow us to proceed to prototyping our first hardware microchips,” Pratt said. “Using these prototypes, we can demonstrate the feasibility and performance of our patent pending circuit architecture to both customers and investors.”


As for within the Triangle, you may have already heard of SnapYeti, a place for photo contests where people compete and win prizes, deals, and discounts. Although they just launched in September, they have raised $45K and have been working with EntreDot, CED, and HQ Raleigh. They recently finished a stint at Groundwork as well.

“North Carolina is an amazing place to start a company,” said Founder and CEO Justin Beard.

Also a first time applicant, Beard plans to use the money to “continue to build our company while providing validation for our team and potential investors.”

NIRvana Sciences

A spin-out company from NC State University, NIRvana Sciences is now in Durham, commercializing new dyes to improve the performance of medical diagnostic tests.

Founded in 2011 and bringing on board a management team this year, this is NIRvana’s second time applying for the grant.

“We have more validating test data and greater business momentum,” said company president Russell Thomas . The grant will “enable us to conduct additional proof of concept work in more diagnostic markets to attract new corporate partnerships as well as help cover international patent expenses.”

Their commercialization project received a $50,000 Technology Enhancement Grant from the North Carolina Biotech Center, and the cofounders have invested substantially into the company.

Panacea Solutions

Panacea Solutions is an RTP company working with robotically customized neutraceuticals based upon a peer-reviewed science evidence database. In other words, it’s custom enhanced health and wellness without all the pills and bottles.

Edison Hudson and L. Staton Noel III, both North Carolina natives, founded the company in early 2013 and are up to seven full-time and part-time employees plus about ten contractors.

They took their company to First Flight, who hooked them up with offices and a lab, and this was their first application for the grant. They’ll use the funds to accelerate preparation and launch of their initial roll-out with a strategic partner.

While all of the companies will surely be making new plans this morning, their attitudes have adjusted as well, SnapYeti’s Beard especially.

“I would like to thank my family, friends, team, and the North Carolina startup ecosystem for supporting this vision and helping us accomplish this incredible milestone,” he said.

Oh, he also said, “The best is Yeti to come!” But I told him I wasn’t going to put that in.