Our History

In 2005, NC IDEA began with a simple focus; to grant seed funds directly to growing technology startups. Today, we are committed to challenging old thinking and practices, thereby rewriting the manual on how communities, and even statewide efforts, economically empower people. The following timeline highlights some of the important events along our journey.

2005

NC IDEA IS BORN

NC IDEA IS BORN

NC IDEA is created and spun out of the Microelectronic Center of North Carolina (MCNC). Did you know that the word IDEA in our name was originally chosen for its double meaning? It is also an acronym for Innovative Development for Economic Advancement.

2006

FIRST GRANTS AWARDED

FIRST GRANTS AWARDED

NC IDEA awards its first seven seed grants to CardioVascular Resonances, DeltaSphere, Illuminus, ImagineOptix, InsituTec, TransLoc and ZumaTek. Years later, in 2018, Durham-based transit app developer TransLoc, is acquired by a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company.

2010

A NEW HOME

A NEW HOME

NC IDEA moves from the Research Triangle Park to the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham to be closer to the center of entrepreneurial activity and the constituents we serve.

2012

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

Groundwork Labs, now known as NC IDEA LABS and a program of the Foundation, is launched with funding from NC IDEA to provide mentorship and guidance to startups too early for a grant. Unlike traditional accelerators, there was no exchange of equity; the only commitment from the founder was time.

2015

PRIVATE FOUNDATION

NC IDEA Foundation: Advancing Entrepreneurship Train

NC IDEA converts from a 501 c(3) supporting organization to a private Foundation, an essential step to furthering our ambition to boost North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

2016

NEW LEADERSHIP

NEW LEADERSHIP

Thom Ruhe joins NC IDEA as CEO and President. Previously, Thom spent seven years at the Kauffman Foundation where he directed the Foundation’s programs addressing entrepreneurial education, mentoring, access to capital and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems.

A NEW KIND OF GRANT

A NEW KIND OF GRANT

NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM was born out of the Foundation’s vision to create more opportunities for the statewide exchange of ideas, experiences and connections. In its inaugural 2016 cohort, NC IDEA welcomed eleven partners awarding a total of $1.3 million.

2017

EXPANDING OUR NETWORK

EXPANDING OUR NETWORK

After the launch of NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM, there was a clear need to help facilitate access and activities to a broader group of partners across the state. NC IDEA ENGAGE grants averaging $5K or less were created to help more organizations bring together like-minded folks to celebrate entrepreneurship.

2018

HELPING MORE ENTREPRENEURS

HELPING MORE ENTREPRENEURS

The Foundation pilots NC IDEA MICRO to award smaller, validation grants in the amount of $10K to companies not yet positioned for our traditional $50K NC IDEA SEED grant. Fifteen companies were awarded grants in its inaugural cycle. Today, NC IDEA MICRO remains a signature program of the Foundation.

100,000 MINDSETS

100,000 MINDSETS

NC IDEA commits to a statewide rollout of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program with the ambitious goal to educate 100,000 North Carolinians with an entrepreneurial mindset. In December 2018, 50 individuals from across the state graduated from the Foundation’s first Ice House Facilitator Training.

2019

UNPRECEDENTED GATHERING

In November 2019, NC IDEA hosted the first-ever statewide Ecosystem Summit with the ambition to redefine economic development through entrepreneurship. The Summit was an unprecedented gathering of nearly 500 individuals and organizations who support, encourage and nourish NC’s entrepreneurs.

SURPASSING $10M

NC IDEA surpasses $10M in grants awarded across all Foundation programs.

2020

ELEVATING BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP

ELEVATING BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP

NC IDEA establishes the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council (NC BEC) and awards over $360K in grants to 8 partners advancing Black entrepreneurship

RETHINK AND RESET

In November 2020, NC IDEA hosted its second annual Ecosystem Summit with the ambition to rethink and reset economic development priorities through entrepreneurship for North Carolina. The interactive, virtual event was held November 16-17, 2020 as an official event of Global Entrepreneurship Week.