Accelerators & Mentorship Programs
For early stage startups seeking expert guidance and a way to test their prototypes as they prepare to launch, here are some programs for you. This list includes accelerators, mentorship programs and business development training programs.
A program of Cary-based Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina, 101 Weston Labs launched in 2023 with the goal of helping insurance technology startups bring their products to the market quickly. The three-month program targets North America-headquartered startups developing solutions for independent insurance agencies. The accelerator includes weekly training seminars, coaching/mentoring from experts and entrepreneurs, access to a network of insurtech investors and stakeholders, and connections to independent distribution channels.
Triangle-based innovation lab Ag TechInventures focuses on forming spin offs and advancing the intellectual property of agricultural technologies built in university research labs and small scientific companies.
Bunker Labs RDU provides access to business services, mentorship with experienced entrepreneurs and introductions to investors for the area’s military veteran community. The program holds an annual conference, The Muster RDU, to empower these innovators; it’s free for veterans and active duty service members. More coverage here.
Bunker Labs, a national organization focused on veteran entrepreneurship, launched its Veterans in Residence program in 2019 to provide space, services, mentorship and community resources to help veterans and military spouses build and grow their businesses. The six-month program runs out of WeWork’s nationwide network of coworking spaces, which includes Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham. North Carolina is typically well-represented in Veterans in Residence cohorts, with 18 local entrepreneurs participating in the latest round (class 2022-B).
Campbell University’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business launched its first Camel Accelerator cohort in 2021, aiming to bring together students, new business owners and mentors to help local startups grow. The annual program selects 10 to 20 North Carolina-based entrepreneurs who are female, minority or reside in a rural area. For 10 weeks, participants learn sales and marketing tips, connect with mentors, expand their networks and get connected to educational resources. Sessions are held in a hybrid format via Zoom and at Campbell’s Buies Creek campus.
The Carolina Small Business Development Fund offers one-on-one business development coaching, training, education, loans and financial assistance for startups and existing small businesses across North Carolina.
The Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) is a free resource that offers advanced team consulting from top executives and entrepreneurial leaders in the community. CED’s volunteer mentors have given over 6,700 hours of service to nearly 200 companies that have graduated through the program. Entrepreneurs who are interested in being mentored through CED VMS can apply here.
CUBE is a program and launch space headed by UNC’s social innovation initiative. Photo via CUBE
Duke I&E is the central hub of entrepreneurship and innovation at Duke University. It houses all of the university’s programs and initiatives supporting technology ventures and small businesses.
Duke University’s Law Tech Lab is an accelerator that provides mentoring and connections for emerging startups operating in the legal technology market. Participating companies also receive an equity-free grant at the start of the program.
Open to all Duke students, this program provides experiential education, mentoring, community, resources and even grants to individuals who are interested in creating a product or service, testing a pilot and someday launching their own startup.
Duke University’s Summer Blockchain Innovation Program is an opportunity for students to build, test and launch their blockchain solutions. The virtual program consists of three parts: A flexible, three-week bootcamp with workshops covering the basics of blockchain, a week-long hackathon in collaboration with HackDuke, and a four-week accelerator offering personal coaching, mentorship and access to early-stage investors. Note: Only Duke students can earn stipends for the accelerator, but the program is open to Duke alumni and students from any institution.
The Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator supports social entrepreneurs who are building lasting solutions for children around the world. Cohorts are selected based on their proposed solutions to pre-selected problems. Through the two-year program, teams receive funding, mentorship and support from Duke University staff, faculty, students and partners.
Hosted by the Durham Success Summit, the Summit Founders Program is a free, six-month incubator offering training, mentorship and seed funding for ventures founded by Black men ages 16 to 24. Cohorts meet weekly in person and gain access to the Success Network, an online networking community. Separate from Summit Founders, the Durham Success Summit also hosts a three-month Summit Scholars Program for professionals to hone their networking and leadership skills.
The echoSystem training program is geared towards entrepreneurs with ideas for new products/services and existing businesses pursuing growth. Through a series of in-person classes, participants learn how to attract customers, conduct market research, devise marketing strategies and finance their businesses. The free program launched in 2023 from Durham-based echo, the product of a merger between local nonprofits Audacity Labs and Helius.
The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), a public-private partnership working with the NC Department of Commerce, provides free guidance and support services to small businesses and startups through its Small Business Advisors division. Entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses from across the state can link up with the EDPNC team to learn about rules, regulations, licensing/permitting and local/state resources. Formerly known as “Business Link North Carolina,” the Small Business Advisors division received its new name in 2021.
In UNC Chapel Hill’s E(I) Lab program, graduate students, professional students and postdocs team up for six months to develop prototypes designed to solve unmet needs in healthcare.
RTP-based EntreDot has been in operation since 2008. The organization provides mentorship and advising services for both new and established companies, as well as nonprofits. EntreDot primarily works with “main street” small businesses, but they welcome tech and life science companies as well.
Figure Your Sh*t Out (FYSO) is a six-month virtual accelerator focused on helping entrepreneurs develop a business plan and marketing strategy for their early-stage startup. The program assigns founders to a learning circle of non-competing businesses to hold each other accountable and share progress on achieving their goals.
Hosted by RTP-based First Flight Venture Center, the DRIVe (or Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures) program assists startups in the healthcare technology space with product development, business growth and fund raising. First Flight is one of eight U.S. accelerators selected by the Department of Health and Human Services to host the program.
In 2020, RTP-based tech and life since incubator First Flight Venture Center was awarded a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to facilitate a Federal and State Technology (FAST) Program cohort. In the program, 35 live science companies will participate in a grant readiness evaluation boot camp and receive coaching from Eva Garland Consulting as they develop a competitive SBIR/STTR Phase 1 application.
Run by First Flight Venture Center, the LiftOff grant writing program subsidizes early-stage startups while they work toward landing grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Launched in 2020, First Flight Venture Center’s Propeller Program uses a design thinking framework to help tech and life science ventures identify and communicate their value to potential investors, partners and customers. Read more TechWire coverage here.
While not an accelerator or mentorship program per se, Test Flight Pitch Practice is an opportunity for early-stage startups to hone their pitch and get valuable feedback from an audience of angel investors, funding groups, customers and other reviewers. RTP-based life science incubator First Flight Venture Center launched the program in 2021 to support companies in its ecosystem.
Launched in 2022, First Flight Venture Center’s WheelsUP Accelerator is a 12-week program to guide startups through scaling their life science products/services. In addition to education and mentorship, companies get cash prizes and the potential for follow-on funding from the program’s partner venture funds.
National nonprofit Forward Cities, which has a local chapter in Durham, launched its E3 Durham program in 2022 to support under-served entrepreneurs in the Durham area. Starting with an outreach-focused community navigator pilot program, E3 Durham aims to provide mentorship, capital resources, workshops and networking for entrepreneurs in under-served communities in the Durham area. The program launched with support from a Small Business Administration grant and partnerships with the City of Durham and Durham County.
Part of UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, Gillings Innovation Labs is a program for interdisciplinary teams to develop tech-based solutions that bring public health discoveries into practice. Many Gillings Innovation Labs participants go on to land follow-on funding and scholarly publications to advance their projects.
The Joules Accelerator provides clean energy startups with training, mentoring, access to utilities and introductions through its bi-annual non-equity Catalyst program in Charlotte. In 2018, the Joules Accelerator, together with partner Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to expand the program’s support for Triangle-area startups. Since its founding in 2013, Joules has helped create at least 90 jobs, $15 million in investments and seven pilot projects. Related WRAL TechWire coverage here.
Launch Chapel Hill, a coworking space and incubator, has an accelerator program open to early-stage startups. It offers entrepreneurs on-site tools, resources and knowledge they can use to grow their ventures, covering areas like business models, how to evaluate market timing and assessing certain risks or growth potential. Since its founding in 2013, the program has graduated more than 170 startups, which went on to gain over $105 million in revenue and raise $63 million in capital (as of 2022).
Headed by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, Launch Johnston County aims to provide the coursework, networking, mentorship and funding opportunities that emerging businesses need to grow in the Johnston County area. The program is expected to launch in January 2022. More TechWire coverage here.
LaunchWakeCounty provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development services and networking opportunities. The five-week program offers business training, mentorship and fundraising assistance. LaunchWakeCounty is split into multiple branches throughout the Triangle:
Led by the Town of Wendell and Wake Technical Community College, LaunchWENDELL is a new business development program to support entrepreneurs and small business owners in Wendell. Participants will be assigned a mentor from the business community to guide their business development strategy through the 10-week program. The inaugural cohort is set to kick off in January 2022. More TechWire coverage here.
Formed in 2013, Research Triangle Park-based MedBlue Incubator helps to fund and support new science and technology projects from Duke University and the Duke Medical Center. MedBlue provides seed funding, business services, mentorship and partnership opportunities to support the development of innovative technologies with commercial potential.
Wake Technical Community College launched its Main Street Entrepreneurs Accelerator Program (MSEA) in 2021 to support entrepreneurs and small business owners across Wake County. Participants will attend five training sessions covering everything from attracting customers to planning financial projections. Those who attend all sessions and complete their materials will submit their business pitches for the chance to win awards ranging from $2,000 to $8,000.
Part of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, NC DVRS assists people with qualified disabilities to obtain, retain and maintain employment or to start their own business. The program has a process for providing potential funding to help entrepreneurs get their business off the ground.
NC IDEA LABS is an early-stage accelerator program that uniquely offers services for free to participating startups/teams, without taking an equity stake in the company. The four-week program focuses on establishing or growing a customer base, developing a solid business model and preparing founders to pitch and raise capital after graduating from the program.
This program offers equity-free grants up to $15,000 and a five-module program for business development over the course of 14 weeks. Applicant teams must have at least one current undergraduate/graduate student or alumnus within five years of graduation.
NC State Entrepreneurship Collaborative is the umbrella platform for the larger network of programs designed to optimize growth potential for student or alumni-led startups, professionals and future entrepreneurs. It includes all of the relevant degree-seeking programs for students that want to take the startup path once they graduate. It’s also the root of NCSU’s Entrepreneurship Clinic, which embeds students at HQ Raleigh so they can get real-world experience in startup life working with other entrepreneurs outside of a campus setting. The Clinic’s mentorship program also helps students develop relationships with NC State’s network of advisors and mentors.
Through its 12-week New Ventures Accelerator, Winston-Salem’s Flywheel Coworking welcomes startups across North Carolina and beyond to gain insight and connections from mentors and experts, refine their business models, and develop and practice their pitch. The program culminates in a demo day where teams pitch to a panel of investors, competing for cash prizes and follow-on investments averaging $50,000 per startup. In 2021, Flywheel expanded the program with four new tracks: Health/Wellness/Nutrition, AgTech, B2B Software and The Come Up, a program for minority founders.
RevTech Labs (formerly Queen City Fintech) is a 14-week accelerator geared towards fintech and insurtech startups that have developed a minimum viable product or reached the post-revenue stage. Teams get mentorship from a network of tech leaders, guidance from an advisory board and a capital investment. Though the program is based in Charlotte, it follows a hybrid model with a mix of virtual sessions and in-person events. As of 2022, RevTech Labs’ 100+ alumni companies have raised $2.5 billion and the program has over 800 mentors in its network.
The RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) is a 12-week, high-touch program that gives startups access to prototyping resources and tools, and introduces them to industry partners and potential collaborators. Since the program’s inception in 2018, RAP alumni have collectively generated over $100 million in revenue, raised $14 million in capital and created over 200 jobs (as of March 2021).
RIoT Foundations launched in 2023 to help early-stage entrepreneurs and small business owners jumpstart their ventures on a solid footing. The free, four-week program guides participants through business development best practices, the Lean Canvas business plan model, customer/market validation and financial management. While RIoT specializes in educating tech startups through its popular RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP), Foundations is open to businesses in any industry.
Trivent (or Triangle Ventures) is a student-led collective that started in 2022 to spur the next generation of undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurs across North Carolina’s university ecosystem. With UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Flagler Business School as its primary advisor and supporter, Trivent debuted its first startup pitch competition in April 2023 and now plans to continue the program annually or semi-annually in the years to come. Beyond that, the group provides mentorship, founder matching services, access to jobs, and more resources for entrepreneurs across UNC, NC State University and Duke University. Read more Trivent coverage here.
1789 Venture Lab on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. Photo via 1789
The Small Business and Technology Development Center’s flagship Becoming An Investor-Ready Entrepreneur program helps entrepreneurs enter their next stage of growth by engaging private equity investors. In 2021, the program expanded to cover pharmaceutical development in particular, focusing on pre-clinical stage entrepreneurs and university startups.
Shaw University Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center is an incubator and startup support center serving Shaw students and Raleigh community members with daily workshops, mentoring sessions, lunch-and-learns and a speakers series with experienced entrepreneurs. The space, located in Southeast downtown Raleigh, is run in partnership with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund.
The Velocity Creative Accelerator is a 10-week business development program offered by the Center for Creative Economy in Winston-Salem. Founders work with mentors and industry experts to refine their business model, analyze their market, prepare a financial forecast, construct a launch plan and develop an investor pitch. The program culminates in a demo day, where the top three teams split a $50,000 seed-stage investment.
Though the accelerator is hosted in Winston-Salem, it isn’t limited to local startups. Founders from all over the country (and world) have completed the program.
UNC’s Office of Technology Commercialization offers a mix of startup launch and support programs for student-led ventures. Its KickStart Venture Services program provides mentorship, coaching, connections and funding to early-stage startups founded by students and faculty.
UNC Chapel Hill’s Venture Catalyst program matches graduate and postdoctoral students with faculty-founded startups. Fellows and founders work together on market research, business development, customer discovery and other areas critical in bringing scientific and social ventures to the market. Read more coverage here.