Scaling Entrepreneurial Support

Your work supports entrepreneurs. Our ECOSYSTEM grants reflect our commitment to strengthening the infrastructure for North Carolina’s entrepreneurs.

NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM provides grant funding to organizations that execute creative programs to support entrepreneurs. We believe that our commitment to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic advancement in North Carolina is best achieved by working in partnership with others.


On September 8, 2016, NC IDEA announced a cohort of nine organizations selected as our first NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant recipients. The nine organizations were selected from 50 applications received. The grants were 2 and 3-year durations and ranged from $75,000 to $250,000 in funding. Since then we have grown the program to include over 80 partners.

Over the last five years, through our relationships and activities, we have learned many interesting things about the diverse entrepreneurial ecosystems of North Carolina. Most notably, we have learned there are multiple ecosystems within the state, all with varying levels of the requisite building blocks to strengthen the economy; namely, access to organizations and their programs, and access to networks and their resources. If we are to fulfill our statewide mission, we cannot do so alone from NC IDEA’s home office in Durham; we must partner with organizations who know and understand local needs.

We believe that our commitment to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic empowerment in North Carolina is best achieved by working in partnership with others. The NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant program is designed to:

  • Identify (and support) new partners doing inspired things to help entrepreneurs
  • Provide a means for our organization to foster relationships, dialog and learning between ECOSYSTEM partners
  • Better understand how we may (collectively) support more people in their ambition to start and grow companies that will strengthen the economy of North Carolina
  • Encourage more organizations and individuals to support and participate in efforts to make North Carolina the best state in the nation to start and grow great companies

NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM supports organizations executing on innovative and transformational ideas that can strengthen North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

NC IDEA is particularly interested in supporting organizations who serve under-resourced entrepreneurs building scaleable businesses. Under-resourced is intentionally vague; the lack of resources may be due to factors of geography, gender, race or limited economic means. Organizations who primarily serve audiences of high technology, venture-backable businesses are still invited to apply but are herewith informed that the number of grants targeted for that sector will be limited.

It is not our intention to create funding dependencies. This effort is intended to validate vital activities and demonstrate that continuing (supporting) those activities, beyond the period of the grant, would be in the interest of the communities served.

We invite proposals from nonprofit and for profit organizations within North Carolina that primarily help people start and grow high potential firms. High potential firms are companies that have the potential to grow into seven figure companies and/or employ more than 50 people within 5-7 years. Organizations working with small and lifestyle businesses are not the focus of this program, as we believe there are other entities around the state that are serving those firms.

The following entities are not eligible to be awarded an NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant:

  • Endowments, capital campaigns or other fundraising events
  • Lobbying organizations, political parties or labor organizations
  • Fraternal groups
  • Individuals

NC IDEA does not presume how to best serve the diverse communities of North Carolina. We have however, supported dozens of organizations around the state and have observed common practices with promising results that will factor into our evaluation. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Education and training (accelerator) programs wherein participants work specifically on their company, whilst following some curriculum or structure
  • Coaching and mentoring to help participants focus on long-term value creation, culture, work life balance and other founder related topics
  • Technical assistance for specific tasks:
    • Hiring
    • Marketing and sales
    • Social media
    • Intellectual property protection
    • Product development
    • Funding options
  • Networking communities of common entrepreneurial interest
  • Sharing learnings from all of the above and generally promoting entrepreneurship

Proposals will be subjectively evaluated using the criteria that follows. Other factors may be considered at the sole discretion of NC IDEA.


  • Will the proposed grant outcomes further NC IDEA’s ambition to support a diverse population of individuals pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities?
  • Does the applicant, and their proposed activities, compliment NC IDEA’s growing network of ECOSYSTEM partners?

Ability to Execute

  • Can the applicant’s team successfully execute the program?
  • Does the applicant’s team have a track record of success?

Outcomes & Metrics

  • What are the specific outcomes proposed? i.e. what does “success” look like for this initiative?
  • Will milestones and metrics validate the outcomes?
  • How does the applicant plan to measure related metrics?


  • How will this program be sustained into the future – beyond the timeframe of the grant?


  • To what extent will an award from NC IDEA be leveraged by other funds from the organization (or outside financial contributors)?
  • Will other resources (and/or partner organizations) complement the activities proposed?


  • Is this the right moment to be executing this program?
  • Are there other time-specific dependencies?
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