March 7, 2018

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Help for North Carolinians with great ideas


[Originally posted by Triangle Business Journal— February 22, 2018]

IN 2006, DURHAM TRANSIT-TECHNOLOGY MAKER TRANSLOC WAS IN THE FIRST GROUP OF STARTUPS TO RECEIVE SEED FUNDING OF UP TO $50,000 EACH FROM THE NC IDEA FOUNDATION.

The Microelectronic Center of North Carolina created NC IDEA in 2005 and endowed the new organization with nearly $40 million the communications network had generated in income from its investment in other companies.

In January, a Ford subsidiary acquired TransLoc as part of its push to develop self-driving vehicles.

“The nation’s greatest untapped resource is the entrepreneurial potential of the masses,” says Thom Ruhe, CEO and president of Durham-based NC IDEA. Yet, despite “so many ideas of high potential, full promise is never seen by humanity because they don’t get a critical infusion of capital and assistance to prove the potential of the idea.”

NC IDEA, which became an independent private foundation in 2015, works to unleash entrepreneurial potential throughout North Carolina by providing direct support to entrepreneurs and local organizations that support them. Unlike most if not all other similar groups in the U.S., NC IDEA charges no fees and takes no equity stake in the companies it supports.

NC IDEA operates with a staff of five full-time employees and an annual budget of $2.5 million through income generated from its endowment from MCNC that now has grown to roughly $50 million.

Since it began providing funding, NC IDEA has awarded a total of $5.8 million to 126 companies that have created 1,100 jobs and raised more than $160 million in private investment and $58 million in government grants.

It also offers an “accelerator” program that has provided a 10-week curriculum to 130 startup companies that have created 650 jobs and raised more than $20 million in private investment and $5 million in government grants.

And it offers a program that has provided mentoring to 17 female entrepreneurs, whose companies have created 65 jobs and raised $12 million in private investment and $2 million in government grants.

NC IDEA also provides a six-week curriculum, followed by 12 months of mentoring, for entrepreneurs looking to grow companies that have been in business for five to seven years but have become stalled and may not yet be profitable.

It also coordinates a network of organizations that support local entrepreneurs and coordinate peer-to-peer assistance and the sharing of best practices among those support groups.

NC IDEA believes that all entrepreneurs in the state face challenges that are greater “than we currently have the capacity to serve,” and so the foundation is developing a 10-year plan to “help more people of greater need,” Ruhe says.

“There are a large group of significantly underserved individuals with high entrepreneurial potential, notably in our rural communities,” he adds. “There are 80 rural counties in the state of North Carolina where there’s very little programming available” for entrepreneurs. “But great ideas are not geographically bound, or ethnically bound or gender-bound. They can come from anyone, anywhere.”