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Innovation and Entrepreneurship

New Innovate Carolina fund to jump-start student startups

The 1789 Student Venture Fund provides targeted, early-stage seed funding that Carolina undergraduate and graduate students can use to get their commercial and social startups off the ground.

People listen to a speaker at the 1789 Venture Lab.

Imagine that you have an idea you think will make a huge social or economic impact. You want to run with it and start a venture – maybe a startup company or nonprofit organization. The only problem is this: you don’t have any funding to make your idea work.

A new startup fund designed specifically for Carolina students is making this funding-gap scenario faced by too many aspiring entrepreneurs a less common occurrence.

The 1789 Student Venture Fund provides targeted, early-stage seed funding that UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students can use to get their commercial and social startups off the ground. The first round of applications opens Jan. 8. The goal is to give students – many of whom would not be able to pursue a startup – the seed funding they need to ideate, create ventures and move their companies from concept to reality. Award funding ranges from $100 to $2,500 per student venture application.

Jim Kitchen, the founder of the 1789 co-working community, a former student entrepreneur at Carolina and now a professor of the practice teaching entrepreneurship the Kenan-Flagler Business School, is collaborating with Innovate Carolina to make the student fund for startups a reality.

“Too many talented students who have great ideas for companies or non-profits find themselves stuck before they even have the chance to get out of the gate,” Kitchen said. “The 1789 Student Venture Fund is focused specifically on these students: the ones who are passionate about their ideas and just need a little help getting ‘unstuck’ to move forward and launch ventures that makes a positive difference. For these students, a small amount of money can be a make-or-break situation – the difference between a good idea fizzling out and a great company taking off.”

A fund that offers more than funding

The 1789 Student Venture Fund has a couple of features that will be popular among students, said Sheryl Waddell, director of the Innovate Carolina Global Network.

“With this student venture fund, students receive much more than just dollars to work on their startups,” Waddell said. “The funding comes along with access to all the resources that are part of the 1789 community like entrepreneurial mentors, professional service providers, workshops and networking opportunities — all the things that any up-and-coming entrepreneur needs to get the most mileage from their funding and take their ventures to a new level.”

It’s also not a pitch competition, notes Waddell, which makes the 1789 Student Venture Fund an easier, quicker way for students to apply for funding without the pressure of having to jostle with their peers to win dollars. Students apply based on the merit of their startup idea alone. If selected, they receive non-dilutive funding that they must use to advance their startup in some way — whether than involves developing a prototype, creating a minimally-viable product, building a new company website or app, engaging in customer discovery or event advertising or marketing their organization.

The 1789 Student Venture Fund isn’t your typical one-and-done award. The Innovate Carolina team plans for applications to open three times each year – during the spring, summer and fall – so that students have several opportunities to apply annually, or even return for additional funding.

“We want students to apply for a targeted amount of funding initially and use those dollars to make their earliest startup ideas stronger,” said Kimi Yingling, student engagement and events program manager with Innovate Carolina. “And then we encourage them to come back and apply for more funding during the next round of applications once their ideas have developed. We want to work with students and see their ventures grow over time.”

Learn more about Innovate Carolina