Groundwork Labs

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

Steve Friedman, SyncHear

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 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.

We seek entrepreneurs with a high-growth technology-based idea who can be impacted by a three month experience in the creative cauldron of Groundwork Labs.

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.    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:

    • an entrepreneur with an idea that is not yet fundable by an angel or accelerator
    • a first time entrepreneur
    • 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)
    • someone with a part or full-time job trying to understand if their idea has enough legs that they can commit full time to the endeavor (though it is necessary for you to commit substantial time to being in Groundwork Labs)
    • an entrepreneur relocating from another area who needs to find connections in the local community

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.


Our standard Groundwork Labs program is described below.

In addition, we now offer Groundwork++, a program for the more experienced entrepreneur who wants to be an environment like Groundwork, is willing to mentor first time entrepreneurs, and has a gap or two in your company that we can help you with.  We won’t apply the rigor to your company that we do to the “standard” Groundwork companies.

Your time at Groundwork Labs will be focused on customer development, testing your assumptions,  and validating your product – based on Steve Blank’s Customer Development methodology.

Peers – Perhaps the most important aspect of Groundwork Labs is being here – working alongside other startups in the Labs and the American Underground.

Mentors Groundwork Labs’ director John Austin and Groundworkers-in-Residence Scott Moody 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

Weekly speakers - 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, HR, accounting, 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, adapted the design of the program for us 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 as well as others in our community.  More important than just developing a great speech, refining and honing the pitch helps identify the key aspects and issues with your business idea.


Company results

Groundwork Labs opened in February 2012 and as of July  2014, more than 70 companies have been in Groundwork Labs. A summary of results those companies have achieved:

  • 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
  • Seven NC IDEA grant winners  (Gema Touch, Impulsonic, Motavi, FokusLabs, SnapYeti, AnyCloud, Cellbreaker)
  • Seven companies accepted into accelerators:
    • Hostel Rocket, Able Device, AIP, and Home Wellness to The Startup Factory
    • Sqord to Tech Stars Chicago
    • Gema Touch to Healthbox Nashville
    • UpSwing to TechWildcatters in Dallas
  • One company chosen for Cherokee Challenge: Home Wellness
  • Other Grant winners: Sqord and Impulsonic
  • Other Seed funding: SyncHear, Rheti, Klever, Groundfloor, Sqord
  • Blackstone Entrepreneur Network companies: Gema Touch, Mint Market, Sqord, Impulsonic, Leaselytic



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.”

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.”

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


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

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

What sets Groundwork Labs apart from other opportunities for startups?

“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.”

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

“Connections with local experts”

 Phil Verghis, Klever


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

“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


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

“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.”

 What sets Groundwork Labs apart from other opportunities for startups?

“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.”

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

“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 2013, the program has awarded nearly $3 million in non-dilutive funding to 77 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 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.



Is Groundwork Labs an accelerator?

No – though we share some characteristics.  Like an accelerator, we are selective, mentor-driven, intense, and time limited.  But we do not invest and take equity in the company.  Our only stake is in the success of the entrepreneurs that we serve.  This important distinction as a trusted advisor empowers us:

    • 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.

How do you decide who is accepted into Groundwork Labs?

About one in four 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 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, and a unique idea that gives you a competitive advantage and a plausible revenue model.

Are there any other requirements ?

Our guidelines are somewhat broader than NCIDEA’s grant program.  We are looking for technology 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.

How do I apply?

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 box on their application, answer a few extra questions, and you will also be considered for Groundwork Labs.

When can I apply?

Any time.  Here is our 2014 calendar

April 14: Spring Session – Application Deadline March 25

mid-July: Summer Session – Application Deadline June 1

November: Fall Session – Application Deadline late September (same as Fall NC IDEA deadline)

Do we have to be incorporated?


How many teams will you select?

We can simultaneously support up to 10 companies.

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

No.  They are two separate programs and decisions.

Does Groundwork Labs cost anything?

No, now 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.


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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 more than 60 startups. Learn more at the Durham Chamber of Commerce site.

The American Underground

The American Underground is an entrepreneur’s dream  in the American Tobacco Campus — 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 ATC include

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

In this video, current Groundwork Labs and former Joystick Labs Director John Austin talks about the great quality of life in RTP and working in the American Underground:


Under Ground Sign above Stairs - Am Tobacco Complex copy