During one of the holiday parties I attended last month, I met several university student entrepreneurs dutifully working to turn an idea into a viable company. The ideas were varied, even if their demographics were not; that observation being a subject for another time.

During such encounters, I can’t help but ask these aspiring entrepreneurs if they are familiar with our NC IDEA SEED program; a grant that pays $50,000 and comes with access to additional programming from the Foundation and our partners.

To the great satisfaction of my fragile ego, all acknowledged the program with several of them expressing anticipation for the upcoming cycle, opening on February 12th. There was one amongst them however, that wanted me to expressly know he had NO interest, whatsoever, in applying for the grant. When I pressed him for his rationale, he stated “the effort of applying isn’t worth the low probability …” of winning a grant. He was also quite certain that based upon the genius of his idea, it was inevitable he would be showered with millions of dollars from local angels and national venture capitalists; also a subject for another time.

This confident young man asserted that a comprehensive application from him would likely take 3-5 hours and for “just $50,000” what would be the point? Now, I would be surprised if I swayed his thinking, he was REALLY ‘confident’ after all, but reflecting on what I told him, we thought others might benefit in knowing a little bit more about the program.

We are averaging approximately 200 applications per cycle, for what will ultimately be 5-7 awards. So out of the gate, an applicant has about a 6 in 200 chance of receiving $50K. A closer look however reveals even better odds. We can euphemistically refer to about one third of applications as non-competitive. This is mostly due to applications being incomplete, poorly written or ineligible; namely out of state, from large existing firms or for products and/or activities we choose not to support. So the pool of applicants that will receive considerable attention drops to around 130ish, your odds now being 6 in 130.

From the remaining applications, a group of 30-40 accomplished professionals help us select 20-24 semi-finalists who are then invited to submit amended applications. The semi-finalists are invited to expand on their original application in hopes of making the final cut, usually an even dozen.

It should be pointed out here that with each round, applicants receive critique and suggestions from multiple reviewers. We are committed to providing value to all applicants and not just those fortunate enough to secure a grant. And our feedback has proved invaluable as many of our ultimate grant winners are repeat applicants; stronger the second time around for taking some of the advice to heart. Also important to note is that most, if not all, of the information one has to include in the application process would be necessary for pursuing other sources of funding, and we typically don’t ask for anything an entrepreneur shouldn’t be able to answer or provide if they are serious about their endeavor.

For the fortunate 12 finalists, we offer coaching sessions with friends of the foundation (and staff) to help with their in-person presentations; the last hurdle one has to conquer to cross the finish line.

NC IDEA SEED grant recipients tell us, on average, the process is about a 10 hour commitment of time; again, assuming most/all of the content already exists in some fashion. By my math, that would be a return on your time of $5,000 per hour – pretty good methinks. We have also heard from those who didn’t ultimately succeed that the process of applying and the feedback they received has helped their companies evolve. More often than not, we receive expressions of appreciation from those that have gone through the process and we look forward to seeing some of them apply again.

Better still, during the time between application cycles, some leapfrog us and secure an angel investment thereby joining a thriving ecosystem ready to embrace them.

Considering applying this Spring 2018 cycle? The NC IDEA SEED application will be available online from February 12th through February 26th at 5:00pm EST. Learn more here. Best of luck!

January 26, 2018
Written by NC IDEA President & CEO, Thom Ruhe