SWEAT Equity

The Sweat Equity Challenge (SEC) is a competitive application idea challenge that gives you the tools needed to turn your app or software idea into an NC State Startup! SEC is designed to gather the best app ideas from the NC State community and then connect them with the funding and technical expertise necessary to make them a reality.

Open to anyone within the NC State family (including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and employees of all kinds), SEC assists NC State innovators with:

  • obtaining real voice of customer and market feedback to validate the idea,
  • funding the professional development of a prototype,
  • launching a startup around the technology, and
  • connecting that startup with the VC and entrepreneurial community
Submit your application now
Sweat Equity Challenge Startups

The Problem

Great ideas abound but lack professional coding and business development support

  • Do you have a software idea just waiting to be launched?
  • Don’t know if your idea has a market?
  • Need coding support? Need help building your team?
  • Do the scenarios to the right sound like you?’

The Solution

A software development program with built in market validation and professional prototype creation and support. Office of Research Commercialization’s Sweat Equity Challenge can help you turn your app idea into the next great NC State startup.

  • If you have a great app or software idea…
  • If you want to explore launching a startup company…
  • If you have a project that you started but needs professional coding or support…
Submit your application now

Phase 1 – Initial Review

SEC submissions should be generated using the SEC 2022 Submission form and should be no more than two pages in length.

Submissions will be evaluated based on the SEC Program Criteria.

SEC Selection Process in Detail:

  • February 4, 2022 – Applications Due
  • February 11, 2022 – Teams Notified of Acceptance
  • All submissions should be sent electronically to SECprogram1@ncsu.edu. Submissions should be no more than two pages in length and use the following template. SEC 2022 Submission Form.

Applicants should consider the following:

  • What is the market problem that your app or software will address?
  • What are the consequences of the problem (time, money, wasted resources, etc)? Quantify where possible.
  • How is the problem currently being addressed, and why is this inadequate?
  • How does your solution address the outlined problem, and does it completely eliminate it, or does it only mitigate? If so, to what degree?
  • What do you expect your solution is worth to those who are experiencing the problem?
  • Who are the buyers for this software solution, if not the end users directly?
  • Have you already created a version of this software?
  • Submission do not have to be entered into PINS.

Phase 2 – Market Assessment

Chosen submissions will be put through a 4 week NSF I-Corps* short course to gather data and feedback from the market on the idea. Questions that this phase will address are: Is the target problem large? Is the proposed solution what the market wants? Is this tool ‘need to have’ or ‘nice to have’? Is there a commercial market? Phase two will culminate with a final market report and short pitch (~10 minutes) for your idea.

NSF I-Corps Logo*NC State I-Corps

The I-Corps Program was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) in 2011 to teach university scientists and engineers how to apply Lean Startup methods to bring university-developed products and services to the marketplace.

The goal of the NC State I-Corps Site program is to integrate and leverage existing commercialization infrastructure and capabilities to establish a sustainable program for the commercialization of research discoveries. One anticipated impact will be an increased number of startups with clearly established product-market fit thus stimulating regional economic development. The NC State I-Corps Site program represents a joint collaboration between the Office of Technology Commercialization and New Ventures and the Poole College of Management’s Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department.

Phase 3 – Prototype Development

Development partners will evaluate the market reports and pitches of Phase 2 finalists, and will bid on the projects they would like to partner on. Development partners and SEC finalists will then meet to find a good mutual fit for successful commercialization. Once a match is made a statement of work will be agreed upon for prototype development and the code and/or user interface design finalized.

Projects that do not address a large enough market (or are unlikely to make a large enough impact) to support a startup will be evaluated for possible prototype development and commercialization through ORC’s clickwrap licensing marketplace hosted by Catalyst Research Alliance, Inc.

The developer bidding process will proceed as follows:

  • Developer partners will be contacted during I-Corps so that they can get an early look at the ideas in the program
  • Developer partners will be invited to pitch sessions at the close of I-Corps
  • Final market assessment reports and video of the pitches will be made available to Developer partners for evaluation
  • Developer partners will bid on the projects by ranking them
  • Interviews (in person or via phone conference) will be scheduled between the Developer partners and SEC finalists to find a good mutual fit for successful commercialization. Once a match is made a statement of work will be agreed upon for prototype development and the code and/or user interface design finalized.
  • Prototype development will follow the agreed to statement of work, and any development beyond the scope of the statement of work must be agreed to in writing by ORC and the Developer partners.

Phase 4 – Startup Launch

Once the prototype is complete, the IP will be licensed into a new NC State startup with you as the founder! NC State startup companies enjoy a full suite of programs, resources and partners to support their launch and growth through ORC’s New Ventures program.

SEC startups will receive guidance and coaching on how to present themselves to the investment community and business model will go through further refinement.

At the CED Venture Connect Summit SEC startups and other NC Startups will present their technologies and businesses to both local and national investment and business development partners, with the goal of soliciting advisors, contacts and investment funding.

Redefining the traditional conference, Venture Connect, is a new three-day experience. Recognizing the innovation potential across the Tech & Life Science communities, Venture Connect is focused on creating an environment that supports stronger connections, valuable programming, and learning for all.

  • February 4, 2022 – Applications Due
  • February 11, 2022 – Teams Notified of Acceptance
  • March to April  – I-Corps Market Validation Begins
  • April – Prototype Developer Interviews
  • May – Prototype Development Begins
  • August  – Training & Coaching of Founders
  • November – Startup Launch
  • TBD – Pitch & Presentation at CED Venture Connect Summit

*A software disclosure submission is required, at the time of entering into Phase 2 (I-Corp Market Assessment).

Whether a project is chosen to move on to Phase 2 market assessment, or later to Phase 3 prototype development will be determined based on the following criteria:

  • Feasibility and uniqueness of solution
  • Whether your solution effectively addresses the market problem
  • Whether your solution ‘need to have’ or ‘nice or have’
  • Target market size and potential market impact/disruption
  • Positive market feedback

  • The Sweat Equity Challenge is open to applicants including NC State students (undergraduate or graduate), faculty, and employees. All software startup ideas are welcome.
  • A software disclosure for the technology must be on file with the Office of Research Commercialization, at the time of entering into Phase II (I-Corp Market Assessment).

Phase 2 awardees will be entered into the spring NC State I-Corps cohort. Award recipients will be required to participate fully in I-Corps (see ‘What to Expect?’ on Office of Research Commercialization’s I-Corps page), and to produce a market assessment report and present a short (~10 minute) pitch at the close of I-Corps.

Once the developer bidding process begins awardees are to make themselves available for phone or in person discussions with interested SEC development partners to find a good match and build a statement of work. Awardees are expected to cooperate and correspond with their developer throughout the prototype development process.

Projects that proceed to prototype development are expected to be licensed into a startup founded by the awardee(s). Awardees who enter into the development phase are required to take the steps necessary (with guidance and assistance from Office of Research Commercialization) to launch their software startup and to meet regularly with the SEC Program Manager and their Office of Research Commercialization licensing professional to review prototype development progress and prepare for industry engagement.

Finally, awardees are expected to pitch their new startups at the CED Venture Connect Summit in Raleigh, NC.


Please contact Tim Martin at tnmartin@ncsu.edu.