Featured Guru: Lauren Whitehurst

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One of Groundwork Labs’ most valuable assets is our extensive and supportive network of expert volunteers. The GWL teams have ready access to a group of knowledgable, connected “gurus” who volunteer their time in order to see each startup grow and succeed. Having worked in this space myself (with a startup team), and now managing our community directly, I understand first-hand how invaluable this contribution is to our program.

Lauren Whitehurst is one of these volunteers. She generously contributes a couple hours of her time every week to offer her expertise on a wide variety of subjects. Lauren holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and her career spans 20+ years with firms such as Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, Turner Entertainment and Duke University. She built Fuqua’s Center for Consulting Excellence and now teaches strategy periodically in the undergraduate program.

In addition to being very accomplished, she is wonderfully accessible and passionate about equipping promising startups in the area. I recently reached out to Lauren for more on why she chooses to volunteer her time with Groundwork Labs.

GL: Tell us a bit about your work beyond the doors of Groundwork Labs.

LW: Outside of GWL, I have about four “jobs” — none of which earn me a paycheck. First, I work with other companies in the American Underground and I am an active member of this community —I have a co-working space at Main Street; I read grant applications for NC Idea; I help to run Soar, our Google-sponsored organization focused on closing the funding gap for female entrepreneurs, etc. Second, I am Vice-Chair of the Student U Board and I play an active role in that non-profit. We’ve just kicked off a strategic visioning process, and I am the key Board liaison to that effort. Third, I currently play a similar role at my kids’ school, Durham Academy, where we are finishing a strategic planning process that I chaired as a Board Member.

Finally, but truly foremost, I am mom to 13-year-old twins, and since my husband travels quite a bit for work, I am everything from CEO of the house to bus driver!

GL: What inspires you to volunteer your time to work with startups?

LW: I spent most of my professional career up to our move to the Triangle in strategy consulting with BCG. Working with start ups allows me to keep using that experience but in a new way — It’s the best of consulting without the travel. I also love being part of the Underground community — this is a huge reward, as it took me quite a while to find my “place” in the Durham community after we moved about 7 years ago. I like being part of what’s happening here and knowing that my contributions are making a difference. In full disclosure: I’ve also loved that this volunteer opportunity has once and a while enabled me to trade my time/advice for tiny stakes —advisory equity. It’s only happened where relationships have gone pretty deep but it’s exciting to have a bit of skin in the game.

GL: How do you think the companies in our program may best utilize your expertise?

LW: I often answer that question quickly by calling myself “John 2” — I’m going to listen, ask questions and probe into your business model and your assumptions. I will make you set priorities, consider your customer segmentation and refine your pitch message. Because I’ve been exposed to so many large companies via BCG and now via my work with startups in the past 2 years of being down at The Underground, I have a sense of how to play up strengths, prod at potential weaknesses and test assumptions about the market and the business.

GL: Describe a moment when you felt proud of the work you accomplished.

LW: I have been really proud to be a pivotal member of the Soar team, along with John. Being asked to help create and manage this organization was a real vote of confidence in me and a demonstration that the community sees me as someone able to add value to what we are creating here.

GL: What is one piece of advice or encouragement you can offer to new startups entering our program?

LW: Take advantage of the enormous resources available via GWL — the gurus, the pitch practice, the connections to NC Idea, and especially John and each other. The biggest mistake I see people make in GWL is not spending enough time there to take full advantage.

GL: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

LW: To make time move more slowly so that when I have too much to do, or too much I want to do, I could have more time. (I might slow down my own aging process and that of my kids too :) )

We’re Hiring a Developer-in-Residence

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 We are excited to announce a new role that will begin with our spring session – Developer-in-Residence.  This new addition to Groundwork Labs will provide a great capability for teams with great ideas that need technical expertise. We need your help in identifying the right person.

The DiR will be an awesome programmer, developer or user-experience designer and will be a full-time technical resource helping to develop MVPs for all of the teams active in the Groundwork Labs session. At the end of the session, we anticipate that one of the teams will find a great fit with the DiR and the DiR may join a team as a co-founder.

Are you interested?

This is an excellent opportunity for a developer who wants to be in a startup, but doesn’t have an idea to start a company.  It’s a fun way to “date” several startups, identify a good fit, and pick up some skills and knowledge on the business side of startups.  The ideal DiR is someone passionate about helping folks bring their ideas to life. This person should be a prodigious coder with expertise in web app development technologies

The position pays $2,000 per month for 3 months.  We know that the likely candidate is worth a lot more on the open market – but we think the experience and opportunity will be far more valuable.

Please pass this along to anyone you know who might be a good fit, and have them send us their resume to

(We didn’t invent this idea. It’s patterned after Techstars’ Hackstar program.  So thanks, Techstars!)

Application Deadline is March 20, 2015

Groundwork Alumni Feature: Mission 100%

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In April 2014, Janice Smith entered Groundwork Labs with a vision for improving the K-12 classroom experience through visual methods for encouraging shared experience between teachers. She called this vision Mission 100%. Mission 100% is an online platform that promotes best teaching practices and encourages collaboration and implementation through an easy-to-access video database.

Since embarking from the Groundwork Labs program, Mission 100% has continued to hit milestones and has seen significant growth. I reached out to Janice in order to glean some insight into how Mission 100% came to be, where it is now, and where it’s heading.

mission 100 % Janice Smith Groundwork Labs startup incubators raleigh durham nc businesses female entrepreneurs startup american underground nc idea education K-12 teachers tools for teachers

GL: Tell us a little bit about your background prior to founding Mission 100%.

JS: I started teaching right out of college through Teach For America (2006 Eastern North Carolina), and like many corps members quickly became hooked and am still working in education.  I’ve taught both middle school and high school, and later got my Masters in Curriculum Development and Instructional Supervision.  This led to a job as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Maureen Joy Charter School where I got to coach Kindergarten through 8th grade teachers, and help our team transition to the Common Core State Standards.

GL: How did you come up with the idea for Mission 100%?

JS: It was in my role at Maureen Joy that I began to see firsthand the power of video exemplars in helping to support our teachers grow both efficiently and effectively.  After watching another teacher, either in person or on video, it became easier to translate and replicate what they were doing into their own classrooms.  But logistically it’s nearly impossible to watch teachers in their classrooms, and it limits us to only those within our buildings.  Video allows us to capture incredible teachers across the country, and then bring their practice into our own building at a much lower cost.

GL: What has been your greatest milestone so far in building your business?

JS: Our greatest milestone (so far!) was being accepted into ImagineK12, an incredible edtech accelerator located in Silicon Valley.  Not only was it an incredible experience learning more about growing a successful business, but it also gave us a chance to visit over 20 schools, and bring home over 100 hours of incredible classroom footage to help grow our library.

GL: What is your ambition for your company? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

JS: To me, what’s most interesting about integrating video exemplars, and video in general, into your practice and professional development is the way it naturally leads to a practice-focused model.  You are able to watch, reflect, analyze first, then spend your time with your coach or team actually practicing new strategies to make you more apt to actually translate and implement into your classroom.  While short term we’re aiming to build a comprehensive video library of exemplars, long term we’re hoping to better support schools in transitioning their professional development to a more practice-based model.  In 5 years I imagine providing a comprehensive tool and support structure to help schools implement, and provide them with all the resources they need to implement effectively.

GL: What keeps you up at night?Janice Smith quote

JS: The hardest part of building a tool like the Mission 100% video library is that first and foremost you have to have a shared vision of what great teaching looks like.  While there are certainly pockets of schools and models that are getting much closer to agreeing on what this looks like, we as a country are still far from where we need to be.  And while this certainly impacts our ability to grow as fast as some startups, we ultimately believe this is a cause worth fighting for.  The closer we can get to identifying, naming and teaching instructional practices that research has proven to lead to student results, the closer we get to training teachers nationwide to provide an excellent education for every student.  We believe that video can be a powerful tool in pushing us towards a shared vision.

GL: Tell us about your Groundwork Labs experience. What has had the biggest impact on Mission 100%?

JS: Just like I was talking about with teaching, there are certainly shared best practices in building and growing a successful company.  As someone who spent all her time learning how to get better at teaching, and coaching teachers, when I started Mission 100% I had a LOT to learn about the business side.  Groundwork Labs was such an incredible place for me to start, as I was provided not only with structured support (speakers, field trips to local businesses, business model canvas work sessions), but also a network of people who were always eager to help.  The other founders in my cohort, along with John, were always there to answer my questions (no matter how silly), offer words of encouragement and share their own experiences.  The gurus that John arranged to come in also provided specific support on areas such as sales/marketing, legal issues, and UX/UI.  Near the end I learned of ImagineK12 (which I mentioned earlier) and all the folks at Groundwork Labs were there to help me constantly refine my application and then do mock interviews once I was invited out to San Francisco for an in-person interview.  I am confident I would never have been accepted there if it weren’t for everything I learned through Groundwork Labs, and their support throughout the application process.

We’re Looking for a Marketing, Community, and Office Coordinator

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We need help! We’re ready for a talented go-getter to help us better serve our clients – the entrepreneurs and startups who are blazing trails and making a difference in our community.

By “We”, I mean collectively NC IDEA + Groundwork Labs + IDEA Fund Partners.  We work closely together and are co-located at the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham, amongst many of the entrepreneurs and startups we support.

You’ll be working on projects that range from really interesting to really routine – things like building awareness of our programs through social media, monthly newsletters, and blog posts and helping make sure those programs run smoothly by helping with applications, scheduling, and organization.

  • Do you enjoy variety in your work?
  • Can you expertly manage multiple projects in a fast-paced environment?
  • Are you social media, marketing and tech savvy (graphic design is a bonus skill)?
  • Do you have experience with content creation (e.g., newsletters, blogging, press releases) and tools like salesforce, Mailchimp, and WordPress?
  • Are you often complimented on your relationship-building skills?
  • Can you read peoples’ minds and know what they need before they need it?

If you answered these questions with a resounding “Yes!”, this may be a great opportunity for you. We offer a full time position with somewhat flexible hours (including occasional evening work) for the person who wants to be a part of helping people and companies succeed.

If interested in applying, email a cover letter and your resume to so that we can learn more about you.  

Groundwork Spring Session, Application Deadline, and Info Meetups

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Our spring session will begin on April 13, with an application deadline of March 5.

We will be holding informal information meetups about the program around the Triangle the week of February 2:

  • Raleigh   Monday, February 2, noon at HQ Raleigh (310 South Harrington Street) Sign Up
  • RTP   Tuesday, February 3, 4:30 PM at The Frontier – Canyon Conference Room (800 Park Offices Drive) Sign Up
  • Durham   Thursday, February 5, 4:30 PM at Groundwork Labs – American Tobacco Campus (334 Blackwell St.) Sign Up

If a company is applying for an NC IDEA grant, you can simply check a box on that application and you will be considered for Groundwork Labs.  Alternatively, companies can use the application form on our website.

Since launching in February 2012, more than 80 companies have been through our program.  Eight of those companies have won NC IDEA grants and ten have been accepted into accelerators including Tech Stars and The Startup Factory.   15 of our companies have in total raised more than $2.5 million in equity funding and been awarded $1.4 million in grants.



Happy New Year

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Groundwork is now three years old and with the new year it’s a great time to acknowledge the major achievements of our companies during the last year.

Our mission is the same as NC IDEA, the not-for-profit who funds us:  helping technology startups in North Carolina.  Unlike an accelerator, we don’t make an investment or take an equity stake in the companies we help.   So we measure our success by the revenue and number of jobs created by the entrepreneurs (not the companies) who have been in Groundwork.  It’s too soon for either of those metrics to be meaningful, and so in the short term we are measuring the steps along the way: seed investments, grants, and acceptance into accelerators.

We have now helped nearly 80 companies during our three years.  We don’t expect every company that comes through Groundwork to succeed – about half have ceased operations or are on their last legs.  But we’re not going to dwell on that – we’re going to celebrate the ones that are making some great progress.

Three companies won NC IDEA grants in 2014.  AnyCloud (Brian Jenkins), Cellbreaker (Jon Colgan), and Upswing (Melvin Hines, Morgan Intrator, and Alex Pritchett).

Five companies were accepted into accelerators in 2014 (bringing our total to ten):  HostelRocket (Michelle McBryde) and SnapYeti (Justin Beard) were selected for the spring and fall 2014 Startup Factory classes, UpSwing (Melvin Hines and Alex Pritchett) was chosen for Tech Wildcatters in Dallas, Mission 100% (Janice Smith) was selected for the ImagineK12 edtech accelerator in Redwood City, and HealthyBytes (Amy Roberts and Diane Massey) was selected for _________  (we can’t mention the name until they make the official announcement later this month!).

Two companies, FokusLabs (Rich Brancaccio) and Fusion3 Design (David Padgett and Chris Padgett) won $25,000 NC Innovation grants.

During 2014, Groundfloor (Brian Dally and Nick Bhargava) passed the $1 million mark in fundraising and made some great progress with early customers, Eyescribes (Jared Pelo) raised a seed round, Fotoswipe (Sylvain Dufour) raised a seed round and acquired a ton of customers with their app, and Klever raised a round and made great customer progress.

All told, following their time at Groundwork about 20 of those 80 companies have raised more than $3 million in equity and more than $1.4 million in non-dilutive grants.  Nice milestones along the way, but these are not our ultimate.

This year, we also established a partnership with UP Global’s Startup NEXT program which has enabled us to take advantage of connections, mentors, and

Groundwork is always on the lookout for startups at all stages who are looking for a collaborative community in which they can test their idea and reach their next goal.  Give us a shout if you think you are interested.

Welcome New Groundworkers!

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October 2014 classToday we welcomed nine new teams to Groundwork – our largest group to date.  It could be that I’m just indecisive and was unable to decide on the usual five, but I prefer to think of it as not being able to choose amongst some great startups with a wide range of application areas.



  • Aircraft Intelligence – Duncan Jones, Scott Ferner – Aircraft Intelligence is a first of its kind aircraft search tool. We aggregated aircraft listings, market values, upgrade options and damage history which have never before been consolidated.
  • AtomKnows – Sherwood Yao – A mobile software toolkit for photo retailers and travel industry (e.g. Cruise line) to create their branded cloud-based photo book creation & printing apps with minimal code.
  • Aura Life – Eleanor Ismail, Srinivas Rao Chadaram (Naga) – We provide natural, effective and convenient products that remedy yeast infections and help improve the lives of women.
  • Digital Phenomenon – Michael North – Digital Phenomena makes construction automation solutions consisting of cloud-based software and autonomous robots equipped with geospatial interpretation capabilities.
  • Fanpack – David Horne – We’re a subscription site that sends fans unique gifts from their favorite athletes, artists and other influencers while supporting charitable causes.
  • Freshbox – Allison Fairbank – Fresh Box is the first home food preservation system that brings an established industrial food packing technology to the home consumer.
  • Legal Software Solutions (Berniesez) – James Young, Terence McEnally – Our software application and process saves people time and money on traffic tickets and criminal cases by getting lawyers to compete for these cases.
  • Talking 2 Trees – Shawn Gagne – Urban trees are an unnecessary municipal expense. Our solution transforms them into assets. Using our UFCA software, cities across America will be able to access existing carbon exchanges, sell the carbon their trees naturally produce every year, and financially profit from every tree they plant.
  • Trufish – Roxanne Nanninga, Gabriela Anhalzer, Fiona Mulligan – TRUfish tests samples of our customer’s seafood products on a monthly basis to verify correct species labeling.

How can we offer Groundwork Labs for free?

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Since Groundwork Labs doesn’t charge a fee or take an equity stake in the companies that participate in our program I often get asked “How does Groundwork Labs afford to do what you do?”  The short answer is we are funded by NC IDEA, a private, not-for-profit whose mission is to help North Carolina startup technology companies.  Because “NC” is in the name, many folks assume NC IDEA is a state funded entity, but that is incorrect.

Then I get asked:  “How can NC IDEA afford to do this?”, and then: “How does NC IDEA fund their grant program?”

The short answer is you can think of it as an endowment – and there’s some fascinating history of  how it came to be.

I thought our startup community would be interested in that history and enlisted the help of John Cambier from Idea Fund Partners to help with the story – he was personally involved in MCNC for more than a decade.

A long, long time ago – 1980 – led by Governor Jim Hunt, several forward thinking leaders in the state (including some of those behind the founding of the Research Triangle Park itself) endeavored to attract VLSI chip fabrication companies to the state by creating a workforce trained in microelectronics design and fabrication.   In 1981 the state legislature appropriated $24.4 million to create the Microelectronic Center of North Carolina (MCNC) as a private, not-for-profit state-wide resource.  With that money, a 130,000 square foot research facility, including a Class 10 wafer fabrication facility, was built on Cornwallis Rd in the Research Triangle Park, professorships were established and research projects were funded at MCNC, NC A&T, UNCC, UNC Chapel Hill, NCSU and Duke.

As a result of the desire by faculty to avoid having to drive to MCNC to use the chip design resources (Digital VAX systems), in 1985, MCNC’s mission was expanded to include NC REN, a proprietary, high speed network linking the state’s research universities to each other and to the Internet.

By the late 1980’s, supercomputing was looking like the next “big thing”, and each of the state’s major universities was lobbying for funds to establish a supercomputing center.  In response to these requests, the UNC general administration worked with the legislature to enable MCNC to expand its mission to include supercomputing and funded the NC Supercomputing Center, a shared resource for all of the universities.

By 1996, it was pretty clear that, for a number of reasons, the Triangle was not going to become the next Silicon Valley and was not likely to establish a significant base of microelectronics companies.  At the same time, the State continued to provide a significant amount of financial support to MCNC, and many representatives were questioning the return on that investment.  So in 1996 the Legislature instructed MCNC to come up with a plan to become self-sufficient by 2000.   The plan that was blessed by the Legislature and adopted by MCNC had three main facets:

    1. Manage the NC-REN network and the NC Supercomputing Center in support of public and private universities across the state.
    2. Increase the amount of sponsored research in microelectronics and networking technologies.
    3. Commercialize the innovations and related intellectual property that had been generated at MCNC over the last 15 years.

Between 1997 – 1999, while state support gradually decreased, MCNC spun-out three companies, each of which obtained venture backing: 1) Secant Technologies (high-speed ATM switching), 2) Unitive Microelectronics (flip-chip packaging), and 3) Cronos Integrated Microsystems (MEMS technology focused on optical switches).  With each spin-out, MCNC lost people, revenue and infrastructure as those assets went to the new company.

When Cronos closed its Series A financing in November of 1999, MCNC retained ownership of roughly 1/3 of the company.  In April of 2000, as the Internet bubble reached its peak and everything related to optical switching was getting acquired for mind-boggling sums, JDS Uniphase announced the acquisition of Cronos for $750M in stock. When the sale of Cronos to JDS Uniphase was closed in May, MCNC went from having two weeks of operating capital (the state had written its last check earlier that year) to having an endowment worth >$200M virtually overnight.

After spinning-out three businesses in three years (and with them customers, revenues, employees and equipment each time), there was a good bit of re-investment to be done into business units of MCNC.  At the same time, there was an ongoing operating deficit to plug that was no longer being covered by state appropriations.  Add to this a $30M donation to the Rural Internet Access Authority (RIAA) and a post-internet-bubble 90% decline in the value of the Cronos proceeds still held in JDSU stock, and the amount available for distribution when the organization was split in 2003 was considerably less.

In January of 2003, MCNC, now under the leadership of current NC IDEA CEO Dave Rizzo, split the very different missions and customers of the two remaining businesses of MCNC.

The mission of the networking and supercomputing business was to build and operate a leading-edge broadband infrastructure for North Carolina’s research, education, non-profit healthcare, and other community institutions. It still operates today, known as simply MCNC.

The technology research and commercialization business was spun out as the MCNC Research and Development Institute (MCNC-RDI).  This new entity, also a 501(c)(3) private, not-for-profit, continued work in microelectronics and related fields in collaboration with universities and corporations around the country and was largely funded through Federal research contracts. As part of this restructuring, a $15M seed stage venture fund was created, the MCNC Enterprise Fund, with the intention of investing in North Carolina-based companies developing technologies in areas where MCNC-RDI had expertise.

In February of 2005 MCND-RDI sold its research business to RTI, leaving a core staff to focus completely on creating new companies and jobs in North Carolina.  MCNC-RDI was renamed NC IDEA and became a supporting organization of the CED (where before it was a supporting organization of MCNC).

With a strong balance sheet and a continuing mission to support the formation and growth of high-technology companies in North Carolina, NC IDEA launched its grant program in the Fall of 2006 in response to the significant need for additional pre-venture capital in North Carolina.  It was, in fact, born out of the teams own experience investing out of the MCNC Enterprise Fund where they saw many more interesting ideas than fundable companies.  To date, NC IDEA has awarded over $3.5M in grants to 88 startups, resulting in an additional $66M in angel and venture capital raised by those 88 (nearly a 20x leverage of funds).

In 2012, NC IDEA furthered their mission with the launch of Groundwork Labs to provide mentors, advice, and guidance to startups.   If you’ve stayed with the story this long, now you know how we can afford to do what we do.

UP Global Partners with Groundwork Labs

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Startup-Next_Primary-With-Background_V3_600_600We are excited to announce that we have  partnered with UP Global to deliver Startup Next as an integral part of our Groundwork Labs program.

I have been the local Startup Next organizer and we have run two sessions of Startup Next here in the Triangle..  The Next curriculum has influenced the Groundwork Labs program, and the Groundwork program has informed changes to the Startup Next curriculum.  Because both programs are targeted at the same audience, deliver essentially the same results, share the organizer/director, and use some of the same mentors, it made great sense to combine efforts.

The partnership boosts the offerings of both programs.  It enables successful Groundwork Labs companies to take advantage of mentors, content, connections, and post-program opportunities at UP Global such as their partnership with the Global Accelerator Network.  It ensures that Startup Next in Research Triangle Park will be getting the most promising early stage teams and work with some of the top mentors in the region.

In addition to Groundwork Labs, UP Global has chosen to partner with Lean Entrepreneur Program in Vancouver, BC and Start It Smart in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Startup Next is UP GLobal’s 5 week pre-accelerator program launched in 2012 and has been delivered in more than 40 cities around the world.  The program focuses on validating a business idea, customer development, MVP, and an investor-ready pitch deck.  Those teams that demonstrate readiness after the program have many opportunities for post-program exposure, including the UP Global partnership with the Global Accelerator Network and other accelerator’s who’ve partnered to see quality deal flow.

Our first session as part of this partnership begins October 6, with an application deadline of September 5.  Companies can apply using either the short application form at, or if they are applying for an NC IDEA grant, simply checking the box that indicates they also want to apply to Groundwork Labs.

UP Global’s perspective on the partnership can be found here.

Catching Up with Bright Wolf

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Bright Wolf works with organizations to strengthen their customer relationships and grow their businesses by helping each organization build, operate and integrate Machine to Machine(M2M) and Internet of Things(IoT) solutions.   

A few weeks ago, we caught up with co-founders, Patrick Dempsey and James Branigan…

GWL: Tell us something about your background before you founded Bright Wolf

BW: Patrick and James met as undergraduates in the Computer Engineering Department at NC State University, both graduating in 2001.  Patrick went on to complete a Master’s degree at NC State in Computer Engineering.  James went on to complete a Master’s degree in Computer Science from UNC Chapel Hill.  James and Patrick both worked together at IBM and later at two startups before starting Bright Wolf.

GWL: How did you come up with the idea for Bright Wolf?

BW: Throughout our professional careers we’ve always been helping customers develop and deploy connected system in various markets.  Bright Wolf is about leveraging the experience and technology we’ve developed throughout our careers to go after the Internet of Things(IoT) and Machine to Machine(M2M) markets.

GWL: What’s your ambition for your company?  Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

BW: The IoT/M2M wave will help at least one unknown company grow up to be a giant in the tech space.  We want to be that company.  The M2M/IoT wave should be in full force in 5 years, so in 5 years we’d like to be busy dominating that space.

GWL: What keeps you up at night?

BW:Toddlers, Cash Flow, Finding More Customers.  In that order.

GWL: Tell us about your Groundwork Labs experience.  What has had the biggest impact on Bright Wolf?

BW: Groundwork Labs was tremendous for us as a company.  The most valuable thing for us was the validation and then the lent credibility from John and the other Gurus.  The connections we made while at Groundwork Labs were immediately useful and continue to be greatly valuable to us.

GWL: What is the most exciting thing that has happened with Bright Wolf since leaving Groundwork?

BW: Through the connections we made at Groundwork Labs we were introduced to the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina in Wake Forest, NC.  Our products and services are a great match for both the companies onsite and those served by the WRC so we moved into new offices in their Commercialization Center.  We have also brought on a Director of Sales and Business Development to help us scale sales.

GWL: What’s next for Bright Wolf?

BW: More of the same: Execution, Delivery, Growth



Road Trip!

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2014-07-31 11.56.38We have a speaker nearly every week at Groundwork – investors, entrepreneurs, and experts share their knowledge.  Usually they come to us, but when the speaker is co-founder of a brewery, it’s far more fun to hit the road and go to him.



2014-07-31 12.14.18This week entrepreneur and angel investor David Gardner shared with our teams advice on selling, a little brewing technique, and most memorably, some of their fine ales.




Thanks, David!

Housing Stipends Now Available for Out of Town Companies

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We are excited to announce the availability of a housing stipend that will enable entrepreneurs anywhere to join Groundwork Labs at no cost.  We will award a grant to one out-of-town company  each session of Groundwork Labs.

During the last year, we had requests from across the state to help regions start a Groundwork Labs program, and after investigation we found it just wasn’t feasible.

And after thinking some more, why limit it to just North Carolina companies?  We would love to have great companies from anywhere in the country learn about the great entrepreneurial environment in the triangle.

Our next session will start October 6 and the application deadline will be September 5 (same as the next NC IDEA deadline).  Teams can apply either by indicating on their NC IDEA grant application that they also want to apply to Groundwork (and they want to apply for the housing stipend), or by applying directly to Groundwork Labs on our website.

Welcome New Groundworkers

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We would just like to give a big shout out to the two new companies that joined Groundwork Labs yesterday. These new teams are:

Green Shoot: Green Shoot is a cloud and automation services company, focused on using technology to help businesses do more with less. It accelerates businesses by automating complex technologies through intelligent analytics, methodologies and cloud services.

 Healthy Bytes: Healthy Bytes lets you take pictures to log meals and receive personalized feedback and encouragement from a nutrition coach. This platform allows nutrition coaches to achieve better client retention, manage more clients, and monetize their down-time.


Catching Up with Hostel Rocket

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Hostel Rocket makes it possible to search and book any hostel from any device- Rocket Fast.

Hostel Rocket participated in Groundwork Labs in fall of 2013 and was a member of The Startup Factory’s Spring 2014 cohort.  Last week we caught up with co-founder Michelle McBryde…

 GL: Tell us something about your background before you founded Hostel Rocket

HR: Our founders are hostel owners/operators, hostel travelers, and high tech dev. people.

 GL: How did you come up with the idea for Hostel Rocket?

HR: As hostel travelers ourselves, having stayed at thousands of hostels and owned and operated two we realized that there were major problems in the online booking experience for hostels: It currently takes between 4-6 websites or 1-2 hours before being able to book a single hostel accommodation due to the fragmented industry. And good luck booking a hostel on an ipad! Not to mention, it is nearly, if not, impossible to re-arrange travel on the fly or even cancel your reservation without loosing your deposit. So, we decided to simplify the hostel travel/booking experience. Hostel Rocket is a meta-search engine (essentially) for hostel travelers that saves them time and money and allows them to search and book from any device.

GL: What’s your ambition for your company?  Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

HR: Hostel Rocket’s core focus will and always will be- being the absolute best hostel booking site in the universe. When we nail this we have some pretty cool features we would love to build- we will see when the time is right.

GL: What keeps you up at night?

HR: Besides my one year old son- I sleep pretty good. I was able to draw some really amazing and experienced dev/design talent for equity so my burn is really low. Although, a few months back there were some sleepless nights as we ran into some pretty big tech issues surrounding integration with other API’s but, again, due to our CTO and tech talent we were able to move right through them and solidify our place in this market. We also learned why know one has entered this space before- it’s very complex!

 GL: Tell us about your Groundwork Labs experience.  What has had the biggest impact on Hostel Rocket

HR: Groundwork Labs was a great place for me to go when I was a single woman team. I met some great mentors in Groundworks- one of them I have actually had come back and run a leadership course as I grew the team from 1-6. I love the free office space and the ability to walk into John’s office and brainstorm ideas.

GL: What’s next for Hostel Rocket?

HR: Public launch! Revenue!

Welcome New Summer Groundworkers!

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Two Mondays ago, we welcomed five new companies into our “Underground Summer” program. These companies were born within the North Carolina universities, including UNC, NCSU and UNCC. They will be working alongside our current groups and taking advantage of all of the Groundwork Labs mentoring and perks from now until August 16. The teams selected for Underground Summer are:

Contour Medical: Contour Medical is looking to change a medical device that has evolved little since its inception in the 1930s—the rib spreader. By creating a device that changes the way thoracic tissue is engaged, Contour Medical hopes to reduce the incidence of chronic post-operative pain in patients who require thoracic surgery.

Undercover Colors: Undercover Colors is working to create the first technology ever that empowers women to discreetly protect themselves from drug-facilitated sexual assault. To do this, we are developing a clear coat nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with date rape drugs in a spiked drink. Through this product, we hope to reduce the overall rate of drug-facilitated sexual assault by making potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught. In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators. We are Undercover Colors.

 Video Collaboratory: The Video Collaboratory is a private, web‑based application that allows small groups of users to upload their own videos or embed YouTube videos for purposes of collaboration. Users discuss by adding text, sketch, or multimedia comments directly at the point of interest within a video. Comments are linked to a specific time point or segment of the video, and timeline markers serve as navigational aids to examine the material. This approach removes the need for a separate text document or email chain to discuss the contents of a video and enhances the specificity and accuracy of the communication

 OmniThrive: OmniThrive builds casual digital games to improve patient education, empowerment, activation, and medication adherence.

501Carbon: 501Carbon is a not-for-profit carbon offset and renewable energy development firm that works with project development partners all over the US and internationally. Their carbon offsets currently come from international Gold Standard projects developed with their partner Umwelt-Projekt-Management headquartered in Munich and are planning for more domestic and international projects.


Groundwork Application Deadline June 8 and Info Session June 4

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The next Groundwork Labs Session will start on July 21. Application deadline is June 8 (changed from June 1). We are accepting teams for both our standard Groundwork Labs program as well as more experienced teams for our Groundwork++ program.

Groundwork Labs will be holding an information session for those interested in applying to Groundwork Labs on Wednesday June 4 from 4-5 pm at Groundwork Labs. John Austin, Groundwork’s director, as well as several of our current teams will be there to answer questions. Please respond to if you plan on attending.


Welcome New Groundworkers!

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On Monday we welcomed seven new teams to Groundwork Labs.  With them, we’ve started two new things – they are the first to start as a cohort, and 2 of the teams are the first to be part of what we are tentatively calling “Groundwork++” – experienced entrepreneurs (Brian Jenkins and Sylvain Dufour) who have joined Groundwork to both help mentor other teams as to fill some gaps in their own company.

  • 451 Technologies – Matt Womble, Tony Pulido.  451 empowers any community to identify, coordinate and respond to safety and emergency issues.
  • AdvisorPool – Tom Parker, Jeff Angtuaco – AdvisorPool provides automated marketing tools to help execute an overall client relationship building strategy.
  • AnyCloud – Brian Jenkins.  AnyCloud aggregates content that consumers have scattered across multiple email, social, and cloud services for easy access.
  • Farmzie – Griffe Youngleson.  Farmzie empowers local farmers to create an online FarmStand, connecting them to local buyers while receiving recommendations based on their geographic area
  • Fotoswipe – Sylvain Dufour. FotoSwipe is the easiest way to instantly share photos on your smartphone with anyone near you; all you have to do is “swipe” the photos from your phone’s screen to your friends’ screens.
  • Fusion3 Design – Chris Padgett, David Padgett. Fusion3 designs and manufactures high-performance 3D printers at 1/10 the price of printers with similar specs.
  • Mission 100% – Janice Smith. Mission 100% captures highly effective instruction on film and edits the footage into an online library of best practices that can be used to train teachers nationwide.

Looking ahead – in June we will have four teams from the local universities join us as part of our Underground Summer program, and our next “regular” cohort of teams will start in early July.  Deadline for applying to the July session will be June 1.

UP Global’s NEXT Program coming in April

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The Up Global NEXT program for startup teams is happening in the Triangle for the second time this April.

 NEXT is an intensive and selective  mentor driven pre-accelerator program that will prepare startups for an accelerator or investor.  Using hands-on mentorship, NEXT helps committed early stage startup teams find the path to achieve product market fit.

During NEXT companies will test their startup idea and team, get weekly mentorship, and grow their network of startup experts and other founders.   NEXT consists of 3 hour weekly sessions for five weeks. Teams are expected to hustle outside the session and complete a set of deliverables each week.

It’s a great opportunity for folks who may not yet be able to commit full time to a program like Groundwork Labs or an accelerator like The Startup Factory.

The best NEXT teams will get invited to the NEXT First Look Forum – a global demo day event with accelerators, investors, and media.

NEXT is backed by Startup Weekend, Google for Entrepreneurs, Techstars, and the Global Accelerator Network.

The NEXT organizers for the Triangle are John Austin, Director of Groundwork Labs, and Mital Patel, Attorney at Triangle Business Law.

Mentors for this session will be Todd Mosier, CTO at Zone Five Software, David Baxter, founder of Big Pixel, Bill Bing, former founder of Loyalese, Karl Rectanus, co-founder of L(e)arn, and Tim Huntley, Entrepreneur in Residence at The Startup Factory and founder of Ganymeade Software.

The program will run for the five Wednesday evenings in April from 6-9 at HQ Raleigh.

Meet the Instructor Information sessions will be offered at

  • Groundwork Labs, American Underground 334 Blackwell St., Suite B005, Durham 12-1 March 13

  • HQ Raleigh, xxx Hillsborough St. , Raleigh noon March 21

Detailed information and application


Groundwork Labs – 2 Years In

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February marks Groundwork Labs’ second anniversary and it’s a great time to acknowledge the major achievements of our companies during the last year.

Our mission is the same as NC IDEA, the non-profit organization who funds us:  helping technology startups in North Carolina.  Unlike an accelerator, we don’t make an investment or take an equity stake in the companies we help.   So we measure our success by the revenue and number of jobs created by the entrepreneurs (not the companies) who have been in Groundwork.  It’s too soon for either of those metrics to be meaningful, and so in the short term we are measuring the steps along the way:  seed investments, grants, and acceptance into accelerators.

We don’t expect every company that comes through Groundwork to succeed.  We have helped 48 companies along with seven university teams who participated in our 2013 summer Underground program.  About a quarter of those companies have ceased operating and another quarter are struggling.  The other half range from “too soon to tell” to “making great progress”,  with about 10 of those achieving some significant milestones this year.

Two companies made significant progress in 2013.  Klever (Phil Verghis) joined Groundwork in February,  raised a seed round of $350,000 in the summer, launched their knowledge sharing platform in September, and now have customers on four continents. Groundfloor (Brian Dally and Nick Bhargava), a platform for crowdlending to commercial real estate developers raised a seed round of $165,000 and launched their first project in Atlanta.  Both Phil and Brian are experienced guys who you don’t think of as your typical Groundwork entrepreneur – and are awesome members of the Groundwork community.  They both helped the other teams in Groundwork as much as we helped them – but while at Groundwork got some critical bits of advice and contacts.

Three companies were accepted into accelerators in 2013 (bringing our total to five).  Home Wellness (Colby Swanson and Eric Calhoun) was selected for the fall 2013 Startup Factory class, and in addition, was a Cherokee Challenge winner.  Sqord, one of the first Groundwork companies back in 2012 was in the fall 2013 TechStars Chicago cohort (to be fair, we hardly knew what we were doing when Coleman Greene was in Groundwork, so we take very little credit for his success!).  Gema (Joanna Rogerson and Jon Guida) participated in the Fall 2013 Healthbox Nashville accelerator, having pivoted  the use of their technology from consumer merchandising to medical.

Two companies won NC IDEA grants in 2013.  FokusLabs (Rich Brancaccio) is developing a device to help ADHD and autistic kids stay on task.  He will use the funds to build 100 prototypes and do a study of the effectiveness of the device.  SnapYeti (Justin Beard) has launched a photo contest platform that enables business to incentivize customers and promote their brand with something they are already doing today – snapping pictures.

On the product front GoGown (Ginny Porowski) signed a license deal with Edison Nation Medical in Charlotte.  Splitmo launched their second game, SnakeLife, and Leaselytics, Cellbreaker, and Medlio all had the initial release of their products.

All told, following their Groundwork experience, 15 of our companies have raised $1.4 million in equity funding and been awarded $1.1 million in grants.  Nice milestones along the way, but these are not our ultimate objectives – we will be measuring those in the years to come.

Groundwork is always on the lookout for startups at all stages who are looking for a collaborative community in which they can test their idea and reach their next goal.  Give us a shout if you think you are interested.

What’s holding you back from applying to Groundwork Labs?

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I spoke with an entrepreneur this week who had recently relocated to the area and asked why she hadn’t applied to Groundwork.  She said she didn’t think it was a  fit because she had been through an accelerator in another town.  I said, ARRGH – we’re not getting our message out – you’d be a great fit!

We are not an accelerator – we don’t make an investment and we don’t take an equity stake.  Our only objective is to help startups in North Carolina.  Like an accelerator we do provide mentoring, help, networking, but we are a community where we tune our program to what you need to make your next step.

So who are good candidates?

  • Relocated entrepreneurs who need some help settling in– we’ve helped several of them – Rob Witman at Splitmo is one
  • Entrepreneurs who have been in another accelerator but could still use some advice and connections –  David Brooks and Lori Mehen at Medlio had been through Dreamit in Philadelphia
  • Experienced folks who are contemplating their next big idea – Brian Dally at Groundfloor and Phil Verghis at Klever are two great examples.  In their time at Groundwork they helped the other teams as much as we helped them, but Groundwork provided critical help where they needed it – and both companies have since raised seed rounds.
  • The first time entrepreneur who you most associate with a program like ours
  • Sole founders who are looking for a co-founder – the Lab is a great platform from which you can find the right person
  • Entrepreneurs trying to decide whether or not they can take the leap.  Several of our companies have had consulting gigs or day jobs to pay the bills and were half-time in Groundwork – Fokus Labs and Adada, among others.
  • Companies who are planning on applying for an NC IDEA grant – five of our alumni have won NC IDEA grants, 12 have been finalists, and 17 semi-finalists – all much higher percentages than the overall applicant pool.
  • Companies that want to bootstrap – we aren’t going to take equity

The general guideline is your company needs to have a technology component, a scaleable business idea, a desire to do a lean startup and customer discovery, and a clear need that Groundwork can help you address.  We have “rolling admissions” – we review applications every month and  1-4 teams start each month.

Have a look and see if Groundwork can help your startup.

iFanKind looks to raise $50,000 from IndieGoGo Campaign

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Breaking News!  iFanKind’s “More than 6″ IndieGoGo Campaign is now live!

Did you know that just 6% of all giving is done by corporations?  iFanKind’s goal is to raise this amount to $32 billion by 2020.  Here’s how it works:

By registering with iFanKind users are able to earn points through activities they are already used to doing like online gaming, recycling, or even simply getting coffee.

These points are accumulated and can then be redeemed for prizes like autographed memorabilia, concert tickets and even meetings with your favorite celebrities.

Companies and brands sponsor iFanKind and 100% of the sponsorship dollars that they spend on iFanKind are donated to charity.

There are 18 days left to help iFanKind reach their $50,000 goal through their IndieGoGo Campaign.  Sign up on their website and share it with your friends to help them reach their goal!

Proxy Army – work or play?

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Tristan and Allen  claim they aren’t goofing off – this is “work” – getting ready to demo at Escapist Expo next week…


Groundwork Teams Demo @ CED Tech Venture

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Groundwork Labs was well represented among the demo companies at CED’s Tech Venture conference this week.  Eight of the approximately 50 teams were current Groundwork teams or alumni: Able Device, Dibs Rewards, FokusLabs, GROUNDFLOOR, Home Wellness, Klever, Leasalytics, and Pluribus Systems.


Brad Halferty and Hugh Butler show off Dibs’ customer loyalty solution


Phil Verghis talks about Klever’s Knowledge Management software


Rob Whitley from Leasalytics in the lightning round


Dibs Rewards’ Brad Halferty makes a point during the lightning round


Brian Dally from GROUNDFLOOR serves up some pie

New Groundwork Teams

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We’ve had four new teams start at Groundwork Labs this week:

MyGivingBook  – (Brian Baucom) MyGivingBook allows you to stay in touch with friends and family by sharing gifts and wishes, donating to a loved one’s favorite charity, or providing details to complete a shopping transaction with the push of a button.

Rompn   (David Sharek and Sam Christie) Rompn lets you notify your friends, so they can join you in your near-future activities, thereby removing the burden of the RSVP and eliminating the potential awkwardness in the invitation process.

Hostel Rocket  (Michelle McBryde)  Hostel Rocket is a hostel booking engine offering zero booking fees, social travel tools, and we explore space.

 ADADA  (David Chaboneau) ADADA provides a horizontally scalable relational and graph database technology with unparalleled query performance. If you’ve got a lot of data and not a lot of time, you need ADADAbase.


Welcome New Groundwork Teams

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Groundwork Labs is packed this summer – we have seven Underground Summer teams from the local universities, we have five companies nearing the end of their time in the Labs, and on Monday we welcomed four new teams:

All9s – (Arturo Fagundo, Beau Epperly, Ashwin Manekar) All9s is building a disaster-recovery workflow software product that recovers hosted-software applications and associated infrastructure across multiple cloud environments, including open-source environments.

Leasalytics – (Rob Whitley, Jack Wang, John Watlington) – Leasalytics is a SaaS company that provides leasing performance analytics. Leasalytics allows residential property management companies to track, place and retain leasing agents.

Neurospire (Jake Stauch) – Neurospire uses brain-imaging technology to do neuormarketing. Neurospire  just one an NC IDEA grant and one of the perks of winning a grant is a spot in Groundwork Labs. – (Melvin Hines, Alex Pritchett, Monique McNellie) – is an online tutoring marketplace that connects certified tutors around the world with high school students. We supplement this support with advanced metrics that help school administrators see and correct trends over time.

Underground Summer 2013

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On Monday we  kicked off  “Underground Summer” for seven companies who were selected from the business plan competitions at Duke, NCCU, NCSU, and UNC.  They will get be working alongside our current group of five companies and taking advantage of all of the Groundwork Labs mentoring and perks from now until August 9.

The teams selected for Underground Summer are:

Cellbreaker (Jon Colgan, Michael Burroughs; UNC) – Cellbreaker’s analytics software enables user to consistently control user-provider fit for TV, phone, and internet accounts.

CrowdTunes (Davis Gossage, Joe Bartell; Duke)- Crowdtunes is a platform that makes the jukebox social – crowds control music in bars through cumulative, collective song bids.

GoPhish (Winston Howes, Jordan Reeves; UNC) – GoPhish is browser-based anti-phishing software that offers the first user-friendly and proactive approach to phishing attacks.

Ideal Serendipity Devices (Dawda Janneh; NCCU) – Ideal Serendipity Devices develops merchandising devices that apply technology to time-consuming inventory problems faced by grocery stores.

Judith and James (Sara Adam; Duke) – Judith and James is an apparel company that turns a simple clothing purchase into a visible act of charity. We manufacture our clothing ethically, providing opportunity and stability to vulnerable women in Kenya.

Soutenu Dancewear  (Suzanne Matthews; North Carolina State) – Soutenu Dancewear is creating a line of dancewear that incorporates protective brace-like support while maintaining the look and feel of today’s dance tights.

New Groundwork Teams

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We’ve had five new teams start at Groundwork in the last few weeks:

Dibs Rewards

Dibs helps small businesses build their customer list, publish revenue-generating promotions and keep the cash. Merchants receive payment from their promotions immediately and directly, so they never have to run another daily deal.


FokusLabs is developing a small device to help increase the focus and attention of children and adults with Autism and ADHD.



SnapYeti is a fun, free place to win cash, prizes and awesome discounts on the things you love by participating in weekly photo contests.

NCCU’s team selected for Underground Summer

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The latest team to join our Underground Summer program is Ideal Serendipity Devices (Dawda Jennah) from North Carolina Central’s Eagles Venture Challenge.   Dawda has patent pending technology that dramatically improves the efficiency of inventory management at retail stores.

Underground Summer begins May 20 and will bring winning teams from Duke, North Carolina Central, North Carolina State, and UNC-Chapel Hill into the Groundwork Labs program alongside our current teams.

NCSU eGames Summer Underground Winners

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IMG_20130429_162408_244Yesterday at North Carolina State’s eGames competition we announced the two latest teams who will be joining our Summer Underground Program – Wolf Reflex (John Baker, Evan Connell, and Kyle Lunsford) and Soutenu Dancewear (Suzanne Matthews).  Wolf Reflex is building an ultrasonic proximity system that will make motorcycling safer.  Soutenu is creating a new line of dancewear that incorporates ankle support into the fabric.

Summer Underground begins May 20 and will bring winning teams from Duke, North Carolina Central, North Carolina State, and UNC-Chapel Hill into the Groundwork Labs program alongside of our current teams.