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New Life-sciences Venture Contest To Award Top Grant Of $20K

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Feb 4, 2020
Life sciences and biotechnology business ventures in Southeastern North Carolina could get a boost through a new competition launched Tuesday by the N.C. Biotechnology Center Southeastern Office, in partnership with UNCW's CIE.

Entrepreneurs and companies can now apply for the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge, which aims to "raise the profile, increase the volume, and enhance the success of life science commercialization, entrepreneurs, and companies in the region,” according to the venture challenge website.

The application period runs through Feb. 28.

Mentors for the challenge are also being sought during the process. A separate application is available for those interested in becoming a mentor.

The N.C. Biotechnology Center and the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is running the competition to spark job creation and investment in life-science-based ventures across Southeastern North Carolina, officials said.

The idea behind the venture challenge is to showcase the region's technology and talent pipeline, create formal partnerships to support biotechnology throughout the area and provide a new source of funding for entrepreneurial ventures related to biotechnology, said Randall Johnson, executive director of the N.C. Biotechnology Center Southeastern Office.

“The other thing that we hope to happen is -- we work with, support and assist most of the biotech companies in the region, if not at all -- but we hope that some will come out of the woodwork, and we'll discover biotech-related companies, technologies and innovations that we weren't aware of before,” Johnson said.

To be eligible, applicants must be a life sciences or biotechnology business with a physical presence in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Hoke, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson or Scotland counties.

The kick-off event for the competition for applicants, mentors, presenters and others will be March 5.

Four finalists will be chosen by a panel. Those selected will participate in a two-month period of mentoring assistance beginning March 19.

Finalists in the competition will receive other benefits, including networking opportunities and assistance from the N.C. Biotechnology Center Life Science Intelligence team.

The NC BIONEER Venture Challenge will culminate with a public pitch competition by the finalists May 19.

The challenge will present grant awards between $5,000 and $20,000 to the top ventures. The venture that wins the top award will receive the $20,000 grant and a one-year co-working tenancy at UNCW's CIE.

The funding is being supported largely by the N.C. Biotechnology Center as well as from UNCW and New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Johnson said.

“The desired outcome eventually is just to see more commercialization of life science innovations in Southeastern North Carolina, and we think that will lead to greater job creation and investment in these types of entrepreneurial ventures in the region,” Johnson said.

"We also intend this competition and the work that we do with the companies during the mentoring phase to prepare them for other additional funding, whether that be from other grants like NC IDEA or from angel capital or potentially venture capital when they get to the right stage. So this is hopefully a starting point to help these companies move forward rapidly with their development," he said.

This venture challenge in Southeastern North Carolina also is considered a pilot challenge, Johnson said, adding that he would like to roll out the contest in other parts of the state, including Greenville, Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Asheville.

Johnson said he also aims to have a future statewide competition with the finalists from this and other regional competitions.

For more information about the challenge, mentoring schedule and to apply, visit the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge website.
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