Competitions, Grants & Other Funding Sources
If you’re interested in getting more funding and exposure beyond traditional seed rounds, here are some opportunities:
The annual Big Launch Challenge is a chance for startups to pitch for cash prizes and capital opportunities. The event is hosted by The Launch Place in Danville, Virginia, which has expanded its presence in the Triangle market with an RTP office and several local startups in its portfolio. In nearly a decade of hosting the competition, The Launch Place has awarded $159,000 to 14 companies (as of 2021). Winners of the Big Launch Challenge program often attract later investments from The Launch Place, as well.
Black Girl Ventures opened a Durham chapter in 2020. The organization provides funding, mentoring and coaching, crowdfunding and community connections to women-founded tech startups.
CrowdfundNC provides education and services to enable North Carolina startups and small businesses to get funded using online private and public offering strategies, including investment crowdfunding. CrowdfundNC’s crowdfunding platform, Localstake NC, helps companies conduct a cost-effective debt or equity securities offering to get funding from customers, partners and supporters. Related TechWire coverage here.
DIG SOUTH, an organization serving tech startups across the South, hosts an annual pitch competition at its flagship DIG SOUTH Tech Summit. In the Wild Pitch event, early- and growth-stage startups present their pitch to a panel of judges and a live audience for a chance to win prizes and potentially attract future investors and partners.
Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) hosts the Launch Pad program for Duke MBA students with innovative ideas. The program includes a $10,000 grant, coaching from CASE staff and the program’s global network of impact enterprise leaders.
Duke Incubation Fund awards funding to idea-stage projects with commercial potential. At least one member of the startup team must be from Duke University.
The Duke Institute for Health Innovation (DIHI) offers an annual funding cycle to support innovative projects from faculty, staff, trainees and students of Duke University and the Duke University Health System. With thematic solicitations for proposals offered on a yearly basis, the program targets projects that aim to address critical issues encountered by care providers and patients.
Duke University’s MEDx initiative offers a range of funding opportunities for students and faculty members with solutions to medical challenges.
In this program, teams of undergraduate students from Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (or BME) will build out medical device concepts proposed by Duke University Medical Center physicians, nurses and other clinical professionals. This program is useful for clinicians who want to build an innovative medical device but lack the time or resources to design a prototype on their own.
Duke MEDx’s High-Risk, High-Impact Challenge provides seed funding—up to three awards ranging from $25,000 to $50,000—to early career researchers for interdisciplinary projects tackling human health issues. This program specifically targets “high-risk, high-impact” projects that are unlikely to receive funding through traditional agencies without preliminary data.
Three student teams compete in three rounds for a year-long entrepreneurship competition that leads to an accelerator program.
Durham SOUP is an opportunity for local early-stage entrepreneurs to pitch their innovative businesses and projects. There are only two rules: Ideas must incorporate the Durham community and the presenters can’t use technology to pitch. The winner receives all of the proceeds from the event.
A week-long startup program focused on building and funding local startups led by black founders. It’s held in conjunction with the annual Black Wall Street Homecoming, a three-day event that celebrates the entrepreneurship and innovation sourced from Durham’s diverse, multicultural communities.
The Launch Place‘s IdeaFest is an annual competition where 20 finalists pitch their startup idea to judges and a live audience. The top three competitors will be awarded $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place and $2,000 for third place. Winners of the competition are eligible to receive 25 hours of free business consulting from The Launch Place.
Innovate Durham, a program launched by the City of Durham, offers innovators the facilities, tools and government resources they need to create technology-driven solutions to community challenges.
INVESTinNC is an educational program to engage small business owners and potential investors about new investment crowdfunding opportunities presented under the NC PACES Act. This is a full-package resource for North Carolina-based companies seeking to raise money through community-based investment crowdfunding sources. Related coverage here.
Through its Launch Microgrant Fund, local startup accelerator Launch Chapel Hill provides $1,000 in equity-free funding to companies that have graduated from its program. The Launch Microgrant launched in November 2020.
LaunchBio, a national life sciences organization, hosts an annual pitch competition for promising biotech startups in the West, South and Northeast regions of the U.S. Entrepreneurs present their pitch to a panel of investors for a chance to win cash prizes, consulting and patent services, and other opportunities. To be eligible, early-stage startups must be developing new therapeutic or life science-related products, platforms or digital health technologies, with fewer than 10 employees and $12 million or less in funding. Durham startup IMMvention Therapeutix made it to the final round of the inaugural Big Pitch event in 2020.
An annual pitch competition for NC State student-led ventures within five categories—new venture, design and prototype, arts, social impact and built on cloud.
Run by Meredith College’s School of Business and Entrepreneurship Program, the annual Meredith (Social) Entrepreneurship Challenge is an opportunity for students with business/nonprofit ideas to compete for a $2,000 cash prize. As of 2021, the program has awarded more than $30,000 since its launch in 2017, featuring 122 student participants and over 20 women judges and mentors.
NC IDEA’s Black Entrepreneurship Council ECOSYSTEM Grant program provides funding (up to $500,000 per recipient) for 501(c)(3) and for-profit organizations that assist Black entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. More TechWire coverage here.
NC IDEA’s ECOSYSTEM grant program supports non-profit and for-profit organizations that are using innovative methods to boost North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, particularly for underrepresented entrepreneurs.
NC IDEA’s MICRO grant program offers funding of up to $10,000 for early-stage companies seeking to validate and further develop their ideas. Recipients will also receive mentorship from NC IDEA and access to its network.
Through its SEED program, the NC IDEA Foundation offers grants to a handful of select startups twice per year. Each company receives up to $50,000 in non-dilutive funding, along with mentorship and guidance.
Run by NC State University’s Office of Research Commercialization, the Sweat Equity Challenge is an app idea competition for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty/staff, who will receive customer/market feedback to validate their ideas, develop a prototype, launch a startup and begin looking for funding to help take their business to the next level.
UNC Chapel Hill’s North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) offers two research funding programs for projects focused on developing new health therapies, diagnostics or devices:
TraCS $2K supports researchers as they move forward with innovative studies and research projects.
TraCS $5K–$50K provides one-year research grants of up to $25,000, requiring 50% matching funds by campus departments or partner institutions. The program supports new research projects as they capture preliminary data before seeking future funding.
NEXT Venture Pitch is a popular pitch event for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors and business leaders across the Carolinas. Held in Greenville, South Carolina, the half-day pitch competition is an opportunity for startups in the southeast to refine their pitch and gain attention from new investors.
Duke University and North Carolina Central University invite student entrepreneurs and recent alumni to showcase their businesses at Pitch: A Competition for Black Student-Founders. Participating entrepreneurs will present their startups and receive expert feedback from investors. Prize money will be awarded.
Held during the AdvanSE Life Sciences Conference every year, PitchRounds invites life science companies across the Southeast to present their solutions in biopharma, digital health, diagnostics and medical devices.
Introduced in 2021, the RIoT Your Reality Challenge is a new competition program from local Internet of Things group RIoT. The program calls entrepreneurs and innovators to create tech-enabled solutions civic challenges from the City of Raleigh and Town of Cary. The winner gets a cash prize and a spot in the next RIoT Accelerator Program cohort.
UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge is a venture competition that provides students the opportunity to win seed funding for early-stage ideas. Every year, the program distributes over $25,000 to promising entrepreneurs so they can move to the next level of launching their business or social ventures.
UNC Carolina Challenge Summer Immersion
In 2021, UNC’s Entrepreneurship Center launched the Carolina Challenge Summer Immersion program, providing networking, workshops, coaching and up to $2,000 (per team) to help student entrepreneurs to continue their journey of building their ventures.
UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Health Innovation offers pilot funding opportunities for UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine faculty and staff innovations. Since 2013, the center’s Innovation Pilot Awards program has awarded more than $1.28 million to 28 teams.
UNC Chapel Hill’s Eshelman Institute for Innovation offers grant funding to staff/faculty, students and postdocs who are developing innovations in science, medicine, healthcare delivery or healthcare education. You can check out some of the projects that have been awarded funding in the past here.
Innovate Carolina’s Dreamers-Who-Do Award program provides funding to support UNC-Chapel Hill student entrepreneurs as they enter the proof-of-concept process. Average awards range from $100 to $1,000.
UNC Chapel Hill’s 1789 Student Venture Fund provides small, targeted funding to help undergraduate and graduate students get their commercial and social startups off the ground.
COVID-19 Funding, Assistance & Resources
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, startups may be in need of immediate funding to keep their businesses afloat in an economic downturn. Here’s a list of COVID-specific funding sources:
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): The U.S. Small Business Administration provides PPP loans to help companies keep their workforce employed during the pandemic. Borrowers may be eligible for loan forgiveness.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Up to $10,000 advance.
- SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund: Offers $28.6 billion in grants to assist restaurants and bars with pandemic-related revenue losses (up to $10 million per business and $5 million per location). Of that total, $5 billion will be set aside for businesses with 2019 gross receipts of less than $500,000. (Update: Applications are now closed.)
- SBA COVID-19 Funding Options: A list of nationwide relief programs for small businesses.
- SBA Debt Relief: SBA will pay principal, interest and fees on certain loans.
- SBA Express Bridge Loans: Up to $25,000; fast turnaround.
- SBA Shuttered Venue Operators Program: Owners/operators of live venues, theatres, performing arts centers, museums and more eligible entities can apply to receive grants equal to 45% of their gross earned income up to $10 million.
- Main Street Lending Program (from the Federal Reserve): Five-year loans of $100,000 to $300 million.
- Job Retention Grant (JRG): Grants of up to $250,000 for businesses and nonprofits in North Carolina. (More TechWire coverage here.)
- NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan: Loans of up to $250,000 with no payments and .25% interest for 18 months. Available for qualifying NC small businesses and family farms.
- NC Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief (MURR) Program (from the NC Department of Commerce): Relief funds of up to $20,000 per qualifying business location. Designed to offset fixed costs like rent, mortgage interests and utility bills.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): For independent contractors and self-employed individuals. (See NC Department of Commerce tip sheet.)
- RETOOLNC Grant Program: This program provides $12 million in funding to certified Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms in North Carolina that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant award will be provided at $10,000 base.
- Truist Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Assistance for Farming Businesses (+ USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program)
- NC Humanities’ American Rescue Plan provides two grant programs offering $5,000 to $20,000 for programming/projects and operating support at North Carolina nonprofit or governmental organizations experiencing hardships due to the pandemic.
- All In For Raleigh (donation campaign)
- Apex Small Business Emergency Loan Program
- CARES Revolving Loan Fund: From United Durham Incorporated’s Community Development Corporation, this program offers loans up to $50,000 to eligible businesses located in Durham County. The loan program is supported by a CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
- Chapel Hill SafeCommerce Grant: The Town of Chapel Hill and the Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro are offering grant funds for small businesses that need personal protective equipment for their employees and/or customers. The maximum grant award per applicant is $2,000.
- Duke-Durham Fund: Grants for small businesses, nonprofits and community organizations.
- Durham Artist Relief Fund: Relief for performers and visual artists.
- Durham Arts Council Recovery Fund: Funding for individual artists and arts organizations, venues and businesses.
- Durham Recovery Fund: The Carolina Small Business Development Fund is offering loans and grants to Durham-based small businesses impacted by COVID-19:
- Durham Grant Program (offered by CSBDF in partnership with Duke University): Available to businesses with $500,000 or less in revenue; must have 25 or fewer employees.
- Durham Loan Program (offered by CSBDF in partnership with the City of Durham): Available to businesses with $500,000 to $2 million in revenue; must have 25 or fewer employees.
- Fuquay-Varina Angel Fund: Grants of up to $3,000
- Holly Springs Chamber Foundation Angel Fund: Holly Springs-based small businesses may apply for grants up to $3,000. You don’t have to be a Chamber member to apply.
- NC CARES for the Arts Grants: Through the CARES Act, $9.4 million was designated to provide direct aid to North Carolina arts councils and arts organizations to mitigate business disruptions caused by COVID-19. Funds will be distributed on a per-capita basis to counties with a population of less than 1 million. See the list of participating counties here.
- NC Healthcare Foundation COVID-19 Fill the Gap Response Fund
- Orange County Arts Support Fund
- Orange County Emergency Small Business Funding Program: Grants of up to $5,000; loans up to $20,000.
- Raleigh Small Business COVID-19 Relief Funds (through Carolina Small Business Development Fund): Grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses. (Make a donation here.)
- Town of Carborro Small Business & Non-Profit Emergency Fund
- United Way of the Greater Triangle Rapid Response Fund (donation campaign)
- Wake Forward (through Wake County and the NC Rural Economic Development Center): $5 million in total to support small businesses, including sole proprietors. Applicants can receive support for two months of lost revenue, capped at $50,000.
- Wake Tech Small Business Rally Fund: Aims to help 17 Wake County-based small businesses that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Awards will be granted in $2,000 increments. Applicants must be an active Small Business Counseling client or LaunchWakeCounty graduate, independently owned and operated company, 15 or fewer employees, actively generating revenue prior to March 1, 2020, with a minimum revenue of $5,000 from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020.
- Carolina Community Impact: Low-interest loans for small businesses.
- Institute of Economic Development Small Diverse Business Emergency Relief Fund: Grants of up to $1,000 for small minority-owned or women-owned businesses in NC. Loans administered by the Women’s Business Center of NC.
- NC Artist Relief Fund: Grants for local artists to cover losses from gig cancellations.
- NC IDEA Partners in Purpose (donation campaign).
- NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund
- Annuity Freedom Grants: Three programs available for artists, Black or minority business owners and women business owners. All are a combination of marketing + micro-grant. While there is not currently a cap on the number of monthly marketing grantees, there is currently one $100 micro-grant each month per program. Marketing assistance will continue indefinitely. No fees are required of applicants.
- Citizens Minority-Owned Small Business Grants: Aims to serve businesses that are at least 51% minority-owned and bank with Citizens.
- Comcast RISE: Provides support and resource services to Black-owned small businesses that have been hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic.
- DVI Funding Financial Bridge Loans: Up to $10,000 for individuals.
- Facebook Small Business Grants Program: $100 million in cash grants and ad credits.
- GoFundMe Small Business Relief Fund: Micro-grants to small businesses.
- Google Small Business Funding & Support: $800 million in grants and ad credits.
- Hello Alice COVID-19 Business for All Emergency Grant: $10,000 emergency grants for small business owners.
- Honeycomb Crowdfunded Small Business Relief Loan: $10,000 to $50,000 in working capital (multiple options).
- James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund: For restaurants, bars and other independent food and beverage operations.
- LISC Rural Relief Small Business Grants: Provides funding to small businesses in rural communities with populations of 50,000 or less.
- Lowe’s-LISC Small Business Relief Grants: Grants for businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19; focus on historically underserved communities that lack access to capital. (More coverage here.)
- Mainvest Main Street Initiative: $2,000 loans for brick and mortar businesses that launch a capital raise on Mainvest.
- Opportunity Fund Assistance for Small Business Owners Affected by COVID-19
- Red Backpack Fund: 1,000 grants of $5,000/each to female entrepreneurs.
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Save Small Business Fund: $5,000 grants to small employers.
- Salesforce Small Business Grants: For businesses with $250,000 to $2 million in revenue.
- Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund: For owners and employees of restaurants and bars.
- Local Initiatives Support Corporation Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund: Grants of up to $10,000.
Other Helpful Resources:
- Adroll’s COVID-19 Guide for Small Businesses: A resource guide to help small businesses that need a boost in the pandemic.
- American Underground’s Landing Spot Program: Provides people who’ve lost their jobs the resources and support they need to start their own business. (Five startups were selected in June.)
- Annuity’s COVID-19 Financial Guide: Advice on how to navigate your finances in a pandemic.
- Back On the Bull: Organized by the City of Durham, this website includes resources and checklists for local businesses that are reopening.
- Best Accounting Software’s State-By-State COVID Support Guide: A comprehensive view of how U.S. states are supporting businesses in the pandemic.
- Carolina Small Business Development Fund Resources & Updates
- Chamber PPE: A partnership between Triangle-area Chambers of Commerce that helps local businesses bulk-buy masks, thermometers, sanitizers and other protective products.
- CityLife: Office Operations During COVID-19: The City of Durham’s CityLife program discusses office reopening guidelines and protocols to keep employees safe. The episode features Tim Scales of American Underground and Roz Dodd of the Research Triangle Foundation.
- City of Raleigh Economic, Business & Employment COVID-19 Resources
- Community Confidence: An AI-based simulation tool to help local business and community leaders to reopen safely.
- COVID Loan Tracker: Self-reported data on how loans are being distributed across the U.S.
- DHIT Global COVID Unites Us All Webinar Series
- Duke Fuqua School of Business’s Searchable Capital Relief Database
- Durham County Small Business Resources
- Durham Has You Covered: Individuals and business owners can use the site to find out where to buy locally produced face coverings for themselves, their families or their employees.
- Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina Resources
- FM:Systems Workplace Reopening Tracker: A global map that shows when and where organizations and companies are reopening their operations. (More TechWire coverage here.)
- Greenlight Durham: Free COVID-19 support for businesses, including streamlined testing, symptom-monitoring for employees, and access to COVID-19 relief payments and other services. The program was launched in partnership with the City and County of Durham and Duke Health.
- How to Stay Safe & Support Downtown Raleigh Businesses
- Joust’s Small Business COVID-19 Funding Estimator
- Local Chambers of Commerce:
- NC Biosciences Organization Resources
- NC Biotechnology Center Resources
- NC Chamber Resources
- NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center
- NCWorks Resources: Including resources on what to do if you’re preparing for personnel layoffs or closure, how to get unemployment insurance, and other useful resources for businesses struggling during the pandemic.
- NC Unemployment for Business Owners: City of Raleigh Video
- Revive 919
- SCORE Coronavirus Small Business Resource Hub
- Small Business Center Network Resources (part of the NC Community College System)
- Small Business & Technology Development Center Resources
- Triangle Community Foundation Resources (for local nonprofits and students)
- Triangle Global Health Consortium Resources
- USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Resources
- Wake County Economic Development Resources
- Wake Tech Small Business Center Resources (including free business counseling services)
COVID-19 Research Funding & Other Resources:
- BIO COVID-19 Therapeutic Development Tracker
- COVID Business Opportunities (via NC Military Business Center): Federal contracting opportunities for companies producing critical supply items.
- COVID-19 Funding Opportunities List from Eva Garland Consulting
- DHIT + ASSIST Center Incubator: A virtual incubator that crowdsources innovative solutions to issues raised by COVID-19. Winning ideas will receive support to move forward. (More TechWire coverage here.)
- NCBiotech Flash Grant Cycle 2: Up to $20,000 may be requested for short, highly focused projects in areas including SARS-CoV-2 gastrointestinal effects and SARS-CoV-2 detection via wastewater.
- National Institutes of Health: Open-Access Data & Computational Resources to Address COVID-19
- National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx): Up to $500 million for projects related to COVID-19 testing and distribution.
- National Science Foundation SBIR/STTR Phase I Proposals
- NC Biotech List of Funding Opportunities
- Search Engine for COVID-19 Treatment Grant Funding
- UNC Research: COVID-19 Funding Opportunities List
Related TechWire Content:
- Can’t fulfill a contract because of COVID-19? Here’s what to do
- Fed lowers funding amounts to reach more small businesses – here are new guidelines
- Have questions about disaster assistance loans to NC small businesses? Here are some answers
- Having trouble with virus crisis loans? Here are tips to help from CFO services firm
- Here’s what startups, small businesses need to know about SBA loans, Payroll Protection Program
- Here to Help virtual conference series archive
- How do startups, entrepreneurs survive this virus crisis? Here are 6 ways to stay standing
- In search of pandemic relief? Breaking down the new Payroll Protection Plan
- Navigating, right-sizing through pandemic: Here’s how to manage your firm
- NC IDEA launches fund-raising program targeting North Carolina startups
- NC startups running out of cash? If not now, maybe later as pandemic drags on
- Pandemic in the workplace: Making sense of COVID-19 vaccination priorities, role of employers
- Startups, small businesses have new source for possible loans: Golden LEAF
- Q&A: Where, how can startups, small businesses find funding in virus crisis?
- Where you can find financial resources in the COVID-19 crisis
- Where to apply for virus crisis loans in NC? Here’s a list
- Why right now in midst of crisis is the best time to invest in your company
- WRAL TechWire’s ‘New Normal’ series: Examining how the local startup community is adjusting to the changes arising from the pandemic.
Public Health Information:
- Case Data:
- CDC Resources: Plan/Prepare/Respond Guidance for Businesses // Reopening Decision Tree for Small Businesses
- Eased Restrictions in NC: Reopening Plans
- Phase 1: Phase 1 Reopening Plan // What’s New In Phase 1 // EDPNC Guide for Businesses Preparing to Reopen
- Phase 2 (effective May 22): Phase 2 Reopening Plan // What’s New In Phase 2 // EDPNC Guide for Businesses Reopening in Phase 2 // Count On Me NC COVID-19 Business Training Resources
- Phase 2.5 (effective Sept. 4): Executive Order (PDF) // Phase 2 FAQs // NC DHHS Guidance // WRAL Coverage
- Phase 3 (effective Oct. 2): Executive Order (PDF) // Phase 3 Reopening Strategy // Phase 3 FAQs // WRAL Coverage
- Modified Stay at Home Order (effective Dec. 11): Executive Order (PDF) // FAQs // Wake County Guidance
- Lifted Modified Stay at Home Order (effective Feb. 26): Executive Order (PDF) // Summary // FAQs // Information for Businesses & Employers
- Lifted Restrictions (effective March 26, 2021): Executive Order (PDF) // Summary // FAQs (PDF)
- Lifted Outdoor Mask Mandate + Eased Mass Gathering Limits (effective April 30, 2021): Executive Order (PDF) // Summary // FAQs (PDF)
- Statewide Mask Mandate (effective June 26, 2020): Executive Order & Requirement Details // CDC Small Business Resource Hub // WHO Face Mask Q&A // Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Face Covering FAQ
- Vaccine Information: NC DHHS Vaccine Portal and FAQs // NC Chamber Vaccine Distribution Resource Guide // WRAL: Where to Get Your Shot in Central NC