DURHAM – Last week we announced the award of sixteen grants ($10,000 each) to startup companies across North Carolina. Since the MICRO program started in Spring 2018, we have awarded over $600,000 to 61 young companies across the state. I wanted to take today’s message to explain how the MICRO program was born from observation and necessity and why we need to rethink economic development priorities.
Whereas entrepreneurial potential is universal, access to the support, education and resources needed to grow successful companies is not. Our flagship grant program (SEED) has been making $50,000 grants to young companies since 2006. Every cycle we have promising applicants that are simply too early to be competitive for the $50K grants. Having granted nearly $6.5M to 148 companies through that program, we learned that there was potential for earlier funding to support a more diverse group of founders.
It is important to acknowledge however, that going earlier into the entrepreneurial journey comes with more uncertainty and risk. Obviously, we want all of our grantees to build wildly successful companies, but clearly not all will make it.
Therein was the intervention we wanted to create; an earlier point where, with our help and $, we could get more companies over the hurdles that prevent far too many from realizing their life’s ambition. And that is how the MICRO grant program was born.
Now, I am happy (and proud if I am being honest) to report that the pandemic hasn’t slowed our grant making. Although our own finances face uncertainty, like everyone else, we are not pulling back on grant making, or our programming for that matter. Speaking of which, LABS will be returning soon (virtually) and our entrepreneurial mindset training efforts (a.k.a. the Ice House Program) are ramping up.
Also last week I had the privilege of speaking on a webinar facilitated by the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University; one of many great organizations supporting entrepreneurial priorities. A theme of today’s session was the need to keep optimism and focus on strengthening our statewide startup ecosystem. As I told viewers, the investments we make in these dark and uncertain times will pay great dividends when we come out the other side of this uncertainty.
If there are silver linings to such global threats, one would be that we are forced to rethink what we believe to be best practices in economic development. We have permission to think differently while learning how to act and work differently – out of necessity. Let’s not squander this opportunity to strengthen the state’s entrepreneurial potential. I promise you, when the next challenge hits, we will be glad we did.