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.
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.
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.
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 and funded by the NC IDEA Foundation, First Flight Venture Center’s Propeller Program uses a design thinking framework to assist tech and life science ventures in identifying and communicating their value to potential investors, partners and customers.
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.
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 153 startups, which went on to gain over $69 million in revenue and raise $38.4 million in capital as of mid-2021.
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:
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.
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 $50,000 and a five-module program for business development over the course of three months. Applicant teams must have least one current undergraduate/graduate student or alumnus within two years of gradation.
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 is a startup accelerator geared toward early-stage tech companies with software solutions. Teams get mentorship from local, regional and national tech leaders, culminating in a launch day where companies pitch their products/services and connect with other members of the local community. The program is located in Charlotte, but cohorts have included companies from all over the U.S.
- RevTech Labs operates the Queen City Fintech startup accelerator, geared toward early-stage companies with financial services technologies.
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).
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.