Groundwork Labs

“Groundwork Labs was instrumental in helping us raise our seed round.”

Steve Friedman, SyncHear

Groundwork is a startup program based on three core beliefs:

    1.  Successful entrepreneurs are both born and made.
    2. It takes a community to champion a successful entrepreneur.
    3. Successful technology entrepreneurs will create significant economic benefit for North Carolina.

We are a community for selected entrepreneurs to test their idea and get expert guidance before they take their next step, whether that be getting their first round of funding,  gaining admission to an accelerator, or bootstrapping their company to revenue.

Why Groundwork Labs?  Groundwork entrepreneurs have raised angel funding, gone on to TechStars and The Startup Factory, and delivered products – see our detailed results below.   If you are looking to win an NC IDEA grant – 16% of Groundwork alumni who applied have won a grant – vs. 4% of all applicants.   Plus there is no cost or loss of equity to participate in Groundwork Labs.


Who should apply?

You must be one of those entrepreneurs who will be fueled by the energy and accountability provided by two things: working alongside other bright, driven, entrepreneurs and getting advice from experienced mentors.  You’ll need a help-you/help-me attitude to get the most out of Groundwork.  Indeed, a successful company can be built in your own your home or office and, if that is your approach, Groundwork is probably not for you.

The profile of entrepreneurs who have had a successful Groundwork Labs experience is varied.  They typically have one or more of the following characteristics:

    • First time entrepreneurs who have a great idea not yet fundable, and need help understanding how to launch an idea, raise money, and get started
    • Experienced entrepreneurs who have a gap they need to fill or could use some help establishing a local network – and who would love to help mentor the first time entrepreneurs in the program
    • Folks with tons of experience in a large company, but have not done a startup before
    • Consulting/contracting companies who want to pivot to a product-based company
    • An entrepreneur who wants to bootstrap their company (and as such is not a good fit for an accelerator program)
    • A single founder who is seeking a co-founder(s) (and thus likely not eligible for an accelerator program)

There are very few limits on the  idea/company that the entrepreneur brings to Groundwork Labs.  It must be a scalable business based on technology.  We will not accept consulting, retail, or small businesses.  While we would not immediately disqualify a company doing a medical device or pharmaceutical, it is unlikely that we can be impactful in a 3 month program in a facility that does not have lab space.

The Program

Programmatically Groundwork Labs is similar to an accelerator: we are selective, we focus on helping companies through our wide network of mentors, speakers, and subject matter experts, and we are time limited to about three months.  But there is one key difference: we don’t make an investment and we don’t take an equity stake.  We offer this program for free through the funding of NC IDEA.

Who can benefit from Groundwork?  Virtually anyone with a very early stage technology startup – we attempt to tailor your experience to whatever you need to take your next step:

  • First time entrepreneurs who have a great idea, but need help understanding how to launch an idea, raise money, and get started
  • Experienced entrepreneurs who have a company gap they need to fill or could use some help establishing a local network – and who would love to help mentor the first time entrepreneurs in the program
  • Folks with tons of experience in a large company, but have not done a startup before
  • Consulting/contracting companies who want to pivot to a product-based company

Groundwork Labs Offers:

Customer Development – Your time at Groundwork Labs will be focused on customer development, testing your assumptions, and validating your product – based on Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas.  We leanstackalso rely heavily on Alex Osterwalder, Steve Blank and Justin Wilcox.  If you can’t find product-market fit, nothing else matters.

Peers – Perhaps the most important aspect of Groundwork Labs is being here – working alongside other startups in the Lab and bumping into folks from all parts of the Triangle startup community.

Mentors – Groundwork Labs’ director John Austin and Groundworkers-in-Residence Scott Barstow, Bryan Hassin, and Lauren Whitehurst, along with mentors from the local community provide day-to-day advice.

Connections – We help make connections with mentors, advisors, investors, and the local entrepreneurial community

Speakers – Nearly every week, we have successful entrepreneurs, investors, and other members of our community who tell their story and provide feedback on your plan and idea.

Guru Desk – For two hours nearly every afternoon subject matter experts from the community hold office hours in the Lab, enabling you to drop in and get guidance. These volunteers include attorneys experienced in startup formation, intellectual property protection, or contracts, experts in sales, marketing, branding, user interface, PR, and finance.

Groundwork Leadership Program – The Groundwork Labs Leadership Program offers our entrepreneurs relevant leadership, management and communication skills that are essential to navigating the start-up environment and beyond. Peter Anlyan of Anlyan Consulting, designed the program specifically for startups and is the facilitator of all sessions. Almost every team that has been through Groundwork has found this valuable in helping to understand how your team can most effectively work together.

Interns – We have energetic interns who can help you with some of the “grunt work” – for example, market research, competitive analysis, and web site content.


Pitch Party– Each week we work on your pitch and get critiques from your peers. More important than just developing a great speech, refining and honing the pitch helps identify the key aspects and issues with your business idea.

Perks – $100K in Google cloud credits, 2 years and up to $5K Amazon Activate credits, Microsoft Bizspark and up to $20K Azure credits, Google for Entrepreneurs, HubSpot’s Jumpstart Program, cool outings, free office space, …


Startup NEXT partnership

UP Global is a non-profit dedicated to growing entrepreneurship across the world though their Startup Weekend, Startup Digest, and Startup NEXT programs. Startup NEXT is a pre-accelerator program designed to get a startup pitch ready in five weeks – and has been offered in more than 50 cities around the world, including the Triangle. Because of the similarities and synergies with Groundwork Labs, our program has been designated as the Startup NEXT program in the triangle. This partnership gives Groundwork teams that demonstrate readiness access to content, mentors, and the Global Accelerator Network, as well as opportunities to pitch to other accelerators.


Important Dates

Winter Session Begins – November 9, 2015

Winter Session Ends – February 18, 2016


Startup Accomplishments

Groundwork Labs opened in February 2012 and since has seen startup accomplishments of varying degrees. As of the end of 2014, more than 80 companies have been in Groundwork Labs. After their time in Groundwork, more than 20  teams have raised more than $3 M in equity and more than $1.4 M in grants. Other accomplishments include:

♦ Ten startups have won NC IDEA grants: Gema Touch, Impulsonic, Motavi, FokusLabs, SnapYeti, AnyCloud, Cellbreaker, Upswing, Urban Offsets, and Essay Assay.

♦ Winners of other grants include: FokusLabs, Fusion3 Design, Sqord, and Impulsonic

♦ Thirteen startups have been accepted into the following accelerators:

The Startup Factory, Durham: AnyCloud, SnapYeti, Hostel Rocket, Able Device, AIP, and Home Wellness

Tech Stars, Chicago: Sqord

Healthbox, Nashville: Gema Touch

TechWildcatters, Dallas: UpSwing

Imagine K12, Redwood City: Mission 100%

Blueprint Health, New York: Healthy Bytes

500 Startups, Mountain View: Cellbreaker to 500 Startups

Raleigh, NC: SeaChange Technologies to Citrix Accelerator

♦ One startup, Home Wellness, was chosen for the Cherokee Challenge.

♦ Multiple startups have joined the Blackstone Entrepreneur Network.


Groundwork Labs After Hours

Groundwork Labs After Hours is a 5 week program targeted at entrepreneurs who are at the “idea” stage and are unable to attend our full-time session. Groundwork After Hours will introduce you to lean startup techniques and customer development. It will help you hone your pitch and strategy.

Even though it is “after hours”, and it is not “full-time”— it will be intense and we expect a high level of commitment. We will meet for two hours each week and there will be work to be done independently between sessions.

Like the regular Groundwork program, Groundwork After Hours will be free to selected participants.  We are able to offer this program through the support of NC IDEA, a private, not-for-profit whose mission is growing the North Carolina economy by creating winning startups.

Expected Outcomes

At the conclusion of the five week program, the startup should

  • Be well positioned to apply to an accelerator
  • Be well positioned to apply for an NC IDEA grant
  • Have completed several iterations of a business model canvas
  • Ready to move quickly on the business idea or pivot to a better one
  • Though it might be disappointing, you might figure out that the idea is not worth pursuing (better to fail fast than spend six months and lots of money going down the wrong path)

Target Audience:

  • Must have a technology-based product idea that has been given some thought.  For example, B2B or B2C software, applications, SAAS products, hardware, medical devices. Pharmaceutical and life science companies are probably not appropriate.
  • Must be a scaleable business – something that has a market potential of $100 million plus
  • We are particularly targeting entrepreneurs who have a “day job” and are trying to decide if their idea has enough merit that they can quit and pursue the dream full time.  Just like UNC has a weekend MBA program for full-time executives, think of this as an opportunity to test the entrepreneurial waters.
  • While retail and consulting businesses are interesting and profitable endeavors, this program is not for you.  We are targeting companies similar to those that would be eligible for an NC IDEA grant
  • If you have customers for your product and revenue, you are probably too far along.

If you aren’t sure if you would be a good fit, check with us at

How do you apply?

Participation will be selective. Based on this written application we will select finalists for a brief interview.  Click here to apply.

Important Dates

Info Session

An info session will be held prior to the application deadline for the next round. Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on important dates and deadlines.

Application Process

Applications Open : Spring 2016

Application Deadline: TBD

Notification of selected companies: TBD

Groundwork After Hours


Each participant will be required to purchase Ash Maurya’s book Running Lean.

The sessions will include a variety of lectures, videos, and individual and joint work.

Specific Topics to be Covered:

  • Lean Startup
  • Customer Discovery
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Market Size
  • Pitching
  • Funding Strategies





Why would you recommend others become a part of Groundwork Labs?

“Although the founders of SyncHear had both launched and operated startups before we knew what we were doing was completely different than anything we had tried. Coming to Groundwork helped us tear down our idea, challenge our assumptions and build it back up to be stronger and more successful. If you have a kernel of an idea or even a fully developed plan, Groundwork Labs will put your business to the test and if your idea is a good one, you’ll be put on a trajectory for success.”  – Steve Friedman, SyncHear

“Groundwork is a place that is focused on your success and growth, without any hidden agenda.” –  Phil Verghis, Klever

“Groundwork Labs has provided us with critical insider knowledge and connections that would have taken years to accrue on our own (if at all).” – Rich Brancaccio, FokusLabs

“I came to Groundwork with a kinda half-baked idea, but working with John and the Gurus at Groundwork, I have something that I’m pretty proud of, and potentially, a viable business. Groundwork forced me to think about business as more than just a good idea and better prepared me to actually manage a startup.”  – Jon Coleman, Context Clarity

What sets Groundwork Labs apart from other opportunities for startups?

“Groundwork Labs is truly a “pay-it-forward” endeavor. They don’t take equity, they don’t have a formal requirement of time but they do request that not only do you spend time working on your venture, but that you also help others achieve their goals as well. One of the first questions you should ask yourself before joining Groundwork Labs is not “What can I get out of this program” but “How can I help this program” and what you’ll find is that others come with that mentality as well. So instead of one or two advisors you are exposed to dozens and you’d be surprised where the best ideas can come from.” – Steve Friedman, SyncHear

“Groundwork gives you a safe yet intense place to test your ideas out to see if it makes sense to take to the next level.” –  Phil Verghis, Klever

“I haven’t participated in other accelerators, but I like the criteria Groundwork uses to select its candidates – it’s more about the people than the idea. I think the “no strings attached” lets Groundwork do this more than other accelerators.”   – Jon Coleman, Context Clarity

What was the missing piece you found while in Groundwork Labs?

“Groundwork Labs helped us find the focus for our venture, put that into messaging that we could communicate and work to raise our seed round. They were instrumental in helping us raise funds!” – Steve Friedman, SyncHear

“Connections with local experts” – Phil Verghis, Klever

“For me this was moving from an idea to a business. Learning that iteration and “failure” are keys to being successful.” – Jon Coleman, Context Clarity

Why do we do this?

Groundwork is based on three core beliefs:

    1. Successful entrepreneurs are both born and made.
    2. It takes a community to champion a successful entrepreneur.
    3. Successful technology entrepreneurs will create significant economic benefit for North Carolina.

We are funded by NC IDEA, a private not-for-profit organization whose mission is economic development in North Carolina by helping startups. Since 2006 the primary vehicle for this has been the NC IDEA grant program. As of June 2015, the program has awarded over $3.9 million in non-dilutive funding to 98 startups.

The objective of NC IDEA’s grant program is to bridge the funding gap between an idea or university technology and private equity funding. The program is extremely comptitive – every 6 months 5-6 awards are made from approximately 150 applicants.

We recognized a gap: a need to help great ideas and people create winning applications, build a complete team, and test their ideas. Groundwork Labs was conceived to bridge that gap and further support the mission of economic development in North Carolina.

We serve the entrepreneurial community of North Carolina, primarily in the Research Triangle area.  While first and foremost our customer is the entrepreneur, we serve the community at large (and perhaps specifically, angel investors) by providing a filter for the entrepreneurs and ideas most likely to succeed.


Q: Is Groundwork Labs an accelerator?

A: Like an accelerator, we are selective, mentor-driven, intense, and time limited.  But we do not invest nor take equity in the company—we offer our program for free.  Our only stake is in the success of the entrepreneurs that we serve.  This important distinction as a trusted advisor empowers us in the following ways:

    • We are invested only in the success of the founder(s), whether that be with the company/idea they bring to Groundwork Labs, or the one they form later based on the expertise they gain in Groundwork.
    • We can remain a trusted advisor long after they have completed their time in Groundwork Labs.
    • We can give unvarnished opinions on the entrepreneur and their company to potential investors since we have no financial interest in the company.

Q: How do you decide who is accepted into Groundwork Labs?

A: Approximately one in five teams who apply are accepted. The three most critical factors are the people, the idea, and the market.  We also consider the fit with the capabilities that Groundwork Labs has to offer and how much impact your time in Groundwork will have on the development of you and your company.

First and foremost we’re looking for great founders and teams.  We realize your idea may change over time and so we look for folks who are stubborn enough to persevere and flexible enough to pivot when needed – and above all are committed to what will be a very challenging road ahead.  We accept individual founders and can be a valuable resource in helping you find co-founders.

We look for a sizable and/or growing market, a unique idea that gives you a competitive advantage, and a plausible revenue model.

Q: Are there any other requirements ?

A: Our guidelines are somewhat broader than NC IDEA’s grant program.  We are looking for companies who have potential for high growth and who would benefit from three months in Groundwork Labs.

We will not accept consulting or service based businesses, or small businesses such as a retail store or restaurant, or sales/marketing companies.  Companies that have high capital requirements and many years to product and revenue such as pharmaceutical companies are less likely to be accepted as three months in Groundwork will not significantly impact the company.  If you are not sure, apply and we can let you know right away.

Q: How many teams will you select?

A: We can simultaneously support up to 10 companies.

Q: How do I apply?

A: Fill out the short form on our website.  If you are applying for an NC IDEA grant, all you have to do is check the Groundwork Labs box on the NC IDEA application, answer a few extra questions, and you will also be considered for Groundwork Labs.

Q: When can I apply?

A: Applications will reopen Spring 2016.

Q: Does my startup have to be incorporated?

A: No.

Q: Is acceptance into Groundwork Labs required to win an NC IDEA grant?

A: No.  They are two separate programs and decisions.

Q: Does Groundwork Labs cost anything?

A: No,we do not make an investment nor do we take any equity in your company.  We do expect that you will give back to the entrepreneurial community in some way – whether that be mentoring another startup, or after you have had a successful exit, making angel investment.  We are able to provide Groundwork Labs through the support of NC IDEA.



Durham and Research Triangle Park

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Durham is in the midst of an entrepreneurial boom that is attracting national attention and sparking dozens of successful ventures.  It is the hub of entrepreneurial activity in North Carolina and the Southeast. Downtown Durham is home to hundreds of startups.

The American Underground

The American Underground is an entrepreneur’s dream  in the American Tobacco Campus and on Main Street — offering a unique mix of world class amenities and clustered resources positioned in the heart of one of the nation’s best places to live and work.

Organizations with offices in American Underground and ATC include

  • Seed stage venture capital firms Bull City Venture Partners, Idea Fund Partners and Acorn Innovestments
  • Startups including Automated Insights, Windsor Circle, Bronto Software, Appia, and Digitalsmiths
  • Organizations such as McKinney, Duke, and Burt’s Bees
  • CED, the local, and nation’s oldest, entrepreneurial support organization


Under Ground Sign above Stairs - Am Tobacco Complex copy