Q&A: Groundwork Labs

by David D. Menzies

DURHAM, N.C. -- On March 9th and 16th Triangle-area accelerator Groundwork Labs will be hosting informational sessions where innovators can learn about this unique two-month program for startups to validate their ideas and reach their next goals. CarolinaTechNews took the launch of the Groundwork 2016 summer session application process to ask the man in charge, John Austin, some questions about this well-known entrepreneurial resource.

Q: When was Groundwork Labs founded and why?

A: Groundwork Labs is a program of NCIDEA, a non-profit foundation that was founded about ten years ago to help startups in North Carolina. It has a grant program for early stage startups, and we award about five grants of up to $50,000 every six months to North Carolina startups.

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Groundwork was started in early 2012.  The main reason for Groundwork was that the NC IDEA grant program had become so popular we were getting 120-150 applicants every six months and only making five awards.  We saw some great ideas and smart technologists who had not yet figured out how to turn their idea into a business.  We saw the impact that accelerators were having around the country, and thought we could put our non-profit spin on the accelerator model and help startups get to their next stage.

Q: Where is your HQ and how many employees do you have?

A: We are located in the American Underground in Durham.  NC IDEA has four employees, 1 ½ of us who are primarily focused on Groundwork Labs.  Groundwork has an army of more than 50 volunteers who help the startups who are in our program, while NC IDEA has nearly 100 volunteers who review and help evaluate grant applications.

Q: Who are some recognizable members of your leadership team?

A: Thom Ruhe recently joined the team as NC IDEA's CEO.  He has worked at the Kauffman Foundation and Jumpstart in Cleveland. I am the Director of Groundwork Labs.

Q: What are your differentiators from similar organizations? 

A: We are a non-profit foundation whose mission is economic development in the state of North Carolina by helping startups.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Scaleable technology startup companies in or relocating to North Carolina

Q: What problems do you solve?

A: We help companies get from an idea to where they are able to raise equity funding from angels or venture capitalists.

Q: What are some new technologies your organization has helped develop?

A:  We don't develop technologies, but we have helped interesting startups. A few of the companies that have been through Groundwork Labs include:

iScribes (raised >$500K)

Groundfloor (raised >$1M)

Mission 100% (accepted into ImagineK12 edtech accelerator)

Upswing (won NC IDEA grant, raised significant equity funding)

FokusLabs (won NC IDEA and NC Innovation grants)

Essay Assay (won NC IDEA grant and raised equity funding)

SeaChange Technologies (won NC IDEA grant, accepted into Citrix Accelerator)

A few of the companies that have won NC IDEA grants include:

Automated Insights


Mati Energy




Q: What new services will you be rolling-out in 2016?

A: Groundwork Labs will be making some enhancements and modifications to our program, but nothing earth shattering. NC IDEA will soon be announcing some additional new grant opportunities.

Q: What makes Groundwork Labs relevant to the future of your industry?

A: Through both the NC IDEA grant program and the Groundwork Labs program we have helped North Carolina startups raise money and accelerate their company's growth.

Q: Where can people go to get more info?

A: www.groundworklabs.com