Whether you are planning to apply to NC IDEA LABS or just exploring your options, the below resources can help better inform you of the opportunity and assist in determining if it is a good fit for you and your company.
Where have you been for the last two years?
Back in 2018, Thom asked me to head up our ECOSYSTEM grant program. After six years of running LABS, I was ready for a change of scenery. It has been eye-opening and rewarding for someone who has lived and worked in the RTP for nearly 40 years to see the entrepreneurs and entrepreneur support organizations in other parts of the state who are doing great work. It’s been particularly rewarding to see the work going on in areas of the state that are not doing as well economically as the RTP. Having been in tech my entire career, it’s been really fun to learn about startups and their products in sectors such as textiles, food/beverage and agtech. But first and foremost, I’m a coach. I have really missed the opportunity to work one on one with founders. I’m really excited that we have been able to rotate our staff’s responsibilities which allows me to jump back in to our direct-to-entrepreneur programming. Everything we do is rewarding and fun, but for me, this responsibility is the most fun.
Who are the ideal candidates for the LABS program?
Founders who want to better understand their customers’ needs so that they can either build their best MVP, or, if they already have a product in the market and are stuck, figure out how to modify their business model or product to adapt to what customers are asking for. We expect the company will be at a very early stage, but that is secondary to a desire to better understand customers.
What can participants expect to do in the four weeks?
NC IDEA LABS is not a curriculum, but a structure that helps each team quickly assess demand, understand customer pain and iterate on their concept. Though content, meetings and workshops will help guide and optimize your activities, you will spend most of your time interfacing directly with potential customers. For the first half of the program, participants will receive support on performing effective customer interviews and using validated techniques for identifying their target market. Through a guided approach, participants will speak directly with potential users, customers and stakeholders. By doing so, entrepreneurs will better understand WHO is experiencing a specific problem, HOW that problem is felt and WHAT solutions may satisfy their current pain. Participants that successfully demonstrate a market pain will then be guided through generating a viable solution and testing it within their target market. After the completion of the program, those who demonstrate coachability and demonstrate meaningful progress will continue to receive support from NC IDEA through mentorship and programming.
Do you plan any changes for LABS in the future?
We are constantly tinkering with the program in response to feedback from participants. So we also need to do some customer discovery! There are a few areas we want to work on. First, I love the intense, shorter four-week format that is laser focused on customer discovery. But what we have lost from the 12-week program we ran for the first six years is interaction between the companies and mentors, advisors and people in the entrepreneurial community, as well as learning some things that will be useful down the road. We’ve had founders tell us that most or all of the important contacts they made were through the LABS program. We would like to figure out a way to bring that back without losing focus. Second, we want to better help our MICRO grant winners. We are now on our 4th cycle of MICRO grants, and one of our biggest learnings is that these very early stage companies typically need more help than our SEED grant winners. We want to look at ways to adopt the LABS format for MICRO grant winners. Which leads directly to the third thing we’d like to work on. Many of those MICRO grant winners are not from nearby and have more of a challenge taking advantage of LABS as currently offered. And the current model doesn’t scale. So we want to make the program more scaleable and accessible – perhaps through an online component, or perhaps through working with our ECOSYSTEM partners in other regions. If you have any thoughts on this, we’d love to hear from you.