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Competitions, Grants & Other Funding Sources

If you’re interested in getting more funding and exposure beyond traditional seed rounds, here are some opportunities:

Big Launch Challenge

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

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.

Incolo (formerly CrowdfundNC)

Raleigh-based Incolo (formerly CrowdfundNC) provides education and services to enable North Carolina startups and small businesses to get funded using creative fundraising strategies, including investment crowdfunding. More than $7 million in investment raises are listed on Incolo’s NC Grind website as of December 2021. The Test The Waters program, run through Incolo partner Beanie & Blazer, helps founders connect with investors within six weeks, while its Incolo Launch service has helped over 20 founders successfully fund and grow their companies. Founders have the option to launch investment offerings via national venture capital and angel groups and/or to the crowd through funding platforms.

DIG SOUTH Wild Pitch

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 CASE Launch Pad

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

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.

Duke Institute for Health Innovation Project Funding

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 MEDx Funding Opportunities

Duke University’s MEDx initiative offers a range of funding opportunities for students and faculty members with solutions to medical challenges.

Duke MEDx-BME Medical Device Design Program

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 High-Risk, High-Impact Challenge

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.

Duke Startup Challenge

Three student teams compete in three rounds for a year-long entrepreneurship competition that leads to an accelerator program.

Durham SOUP

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.

Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders

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.

IdeaFest

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

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.

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Launch Microgrant

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.

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LaunchBio's The Big Pitch Competition

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.

Lulu eGames

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.

Meredith (Social) Entrepreneurship Challenge

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.

NCBiotech Loan & Grant Programs

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center offers a host of funding and grant programs for companies and nonprofits in the technology and life science industries. See all offerings here.

NC IDEA Black Entrepreneurship Council ECOSYSTEM Grant

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 ECOSYSTEM

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 MICRO

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.

NC IDEA SEED

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.

NC State’s Make-A-Thon Competition

At NC State University’s annual Make-A-Thon competition, student teams are tasked with creating the best solution to a sustainability challenge. At the end of the weekend, they’ll pitch their ideas to local judges for a chance to win up to $2,000 in prize money. This is a good opportunity for beginner student-entrepreneurs who have an idea for a product but haven’t created a prototype yet.

NC State’s Sweat Equity Challenge

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.

NC State’s Wolf Den Pitch Competition

Wolf Den is a popular pitch competition that’s held every year during NC State University’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. A handful of student teams present their business ventures to a panel of judges and a live audience for a chance to win cash prizes.

NC TraCS Pilot Grants

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

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.

One North Carolina Small Business Program

This state program offers grant-matching to North Carolina startups who’ve received Phase I awards from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) federal programs. More TechWire coverage here.

Pitch: A Competition for Black Student-Founders

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.

PitchRounds at the AdvanSE Life Sciences Conference

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.

RIoT Your Reality Challenge

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 Carolina Challenge

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 Center for Health Innovation Funding Opportunities

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 Eshelman Institute for Innovation Grants

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.

UNC KickStart Commercialization Grant Awards

From UNC’s Office of Technology Commercialization, this quarterly grant program offers non-dilutive funding—from $5,000 to $50,000—to assist UNC faculty-led startups in commercializing their products.

UNC Innovate Carolina Dreamers-Who-Do Award

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.

1789 Student Venture Fund

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:
Federal Assistance:
  • 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 (EIDL) offers up to $2 million in loans to small businesses and other entities impacted by the pandemic. Under this, there are two targeted advance programs offered to businesses in low-income communities. Read the FAQ here and apply here. NOTE: Applications are due on Dec. 31, 2021
    • The Targeted EIDL Advance program provides $10,000 for businesses in low-income communities with 300 or fewer employees and experiencing revenue reductions greater than 30%. Applications due Dec. 31.
    • The Supplemental Targeted Advance program provides an additional $5,000 for businesses in low-income communities with 10 or fewer employees and experiencing revenue losses of 50% or more. Applications due Dec. 31.
  • 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.
  • 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.
State Assistance:
Local Grants/Funds:
Statewide Grants/Funds/Loans:
Nationwide Grants/Funds:
Other Helpful Resources:
COVID-19 Research Funding & Other Resources:
Related TechWire Content:
Public Health Information: