The idea for the SECU Prizes for Innovation came out the Emerging Issues Forum, which was founded nearly 30 years ago by then North Carolina governor Jim Hunt

The first forum focused on innovation. Now things have come full circle. 
The Institute for Emerging Issues, which now plans the annual spring forum, was founded in 2002 and began offering prizes to bright and enterprising students in 2011. The mission of those prizes is for students from around the state to find creative ways to address crucial problems in North Carolina. At stake are more than $100,000 in prizes.
There are two separate competitions, one for high school students and one for college students. Like that first Emerging Issues Forum, this year’s high school competition will be focused generally on innovation, with a $5,000 grand prize. 
The college competition will recruit innovators in health, economy, environment and education in North Carolina, says Patrick Cronin, the assistant director for policy and programs at IEI, which is based at NC State and housed in the Hunt Library. In the past, the competition was focused on a single challenge. Last year, for example, winners were all innovators in education.
Sponsors State Employee’s Credit Union and SECU Foundation annually sweeten the deal for students. This year, they will provide $50,000 to the winner and $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000 to other impressive entrants. Last year, they provided four $50,000 grants.
The funds can mean a lot for companies with impactful missions. Durham-based Sqord won the prize in 2011, and has since entered the nationally-recognized Techstars accelerator program, raised money from a high-profile Paris venture capital firm and earned partners like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. Its mission is to reduce childhood obesity around the nation by providing wearable devices—similar to a Fitbit—to children. The device can be synced with mobile or tablet devices—its software platform inspires fitness competitions between kids.
Pennies 4 Progress emerged as one of four grand prize winners last year. It lets consumers round up their purchases at restaurants and stores around the Triangle and donate that extra change to local teachers and schools. Momentum is building for that company—this week, Pennies 4 Progress announced a partnership with GoodLabs, another charity platform, to scale the company nationally. 
“The Emerging Issues Prize was the biggest catalyst to our startup in moving us forward,” wrote Ryan O’Donnell of Pennies 4 Progress, in an email. “IEI has played a major role in funding and supporting our mission. Soon every teacher in North Carolina will be able to raise funds with us because of their network and partners across the state.” 
By making this year’s competition topic broader, Cronin believes more people will apply. “We’re trying to be more inclusive,” he says. “What we noticed in the past, when the topic changed each year the number of applications tended to go up or down.” 
Students enrolled in a two or four year college in North Carolina, public or private, may apply. Deadlines come faster than you think, so apply by December 1.
And here’s a recent webinar with details on how to apply, by Emerging Issues Fellow Daniel Brookshire: