Venture Catalyst Program: Where Collaboration and Innovation Meet

November 19, 2020
By Hallie French and Dom Antonietti, KickStart Venture Services

When it comes to innovation, there is no greater driving force than bright minds coming together. UNC Chapel Hill’s Venture Catalyst Program, a collaboration between Innovate Carolina and KickStart Venture Services, does just that. The program allows the leaders of UNC-affiliated startups, serial entrepreneur coaches, and talented graduate students to converge and collaborate.

For Potential Fellows


A select number of doctoral and MBA candidates as well as postdocs with a passion for new venture creation have the opportunity to become Venture Catalyst Fellows (VCFs). The program provides Fellows a unique, applied entrepreneurial experience through three components:

Educational: VCFs benefit from online lunch-and-learn sessions hosted bi-weekly by Innovate Carolina. Past lunch and learn sessions include Marketing 101: Branding, Logos, Social Media, Creating an Effective Pitch, Identifying Financial Milestones, and more.  

Experiential Learning: The Venture Catalyst Program identifies startups that need support and then matches them with student fellows. VCFs help ventures explore new markets, uncover potential funding, engage in customer discovery and carry out other critical functions that the company founders may not have experience with or the resources to pursue on their own.

Entrepreneurial Network: VCFs can build relationships within the UNC-Chapel Hill and regional innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Fellows will be provided with opportunities to pitch to highly successful serial entrepreneurs – including an extension of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network – to gain feedback from them, and to make connections. 

For Startups


Catalyst Coaching Sessions spur innovation by connecting UNC-affiliated startup founders with a virtual coaching team of serial entrepreneurs who work with Innovate Carolina and KickStart Venture Services.  This group of highly experienced and successful entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) work together to mentor and guide startup entrepreneurs.

This helps them achieve significant business milestones, build an advisory board, and make connections to a wider network of entrepreneurial experts and funders.During the coaching sessions, startup leaders pitch to a panel of coaches who provide feedback and advice, working with them to make connections and take next steps. The EIRs partner with student fellows, who are current MBA students, doctoral students and postdocs at UNC-Chapel Hill, to support program startups in a variety of ways. Through this program, companies enjoy access to industry experts across many sectors, venture coaches, angel investors, and professional support provided by the student fellows.

ViaVerus Customer Discovery Workshop
In addition to the Catalyst Coaching Sessions startups also can participate in a 5-week customer discovery workshop hosted by Chris Morrison of ViaVerus. The virtual workshop teaches startup founders and fellows critical skills for interviewing key opinion leaders during primary market research. The Fall 2020 workshop, including four companies in total, marks the second cohort of the program – four companies attended the pilot in Summer 2020.

Program Stats

This Fall, Innovate Carolina and KickStart Venture Services welcomed ten startups and eleven VCFs – eight women and three men – into the Venture Catalyst Program. Among the VCFs, the program welcomed two MBA candidates (one of whom is pursuing a dual MBA/PhD), three postdoctoral fellows, and seven PhD candidates in total. Among startups, the program admitted ten faculty founders, four of whom were women. 

“I would also like to thank you and your team for these two amazing opportunities on the start-up side! I’m grateful for the chance to participate and look forward to learning a lot throughout the process,” said one participating faculty founder.

For both startup leaders and talented graduate students, the Venture Catalyst Program provides opportunities to grow and learn through collaboration. For more information or to apply to the program as a company or student fellow, please contact Sheryl Waddell with Innovate Carolina or Judy Prasad with KickStart Venture Services.