Converging to catalyze startups: Founders collaborating with students for entrepreneurship


Are you passionate about gaining real-world learning experiences working with startups, lending entrepreneurial expertise to help others build their ventures or connecting with experts who can help your own startup thrive? If so, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Venture Catalyst Program is an excellent path to pursue. This program provides startups with business support and entrepreneurial fellows with direct experiences translating scientific, technological and social-driven ideas into the market.

The Venture Catalyst Program is led by KickStart Venture Services in collaboration with Innovate Carolina and CareerWell. The program allows founders of UNC-affiliated startups and innovations to converge, collaborate and grow young companies with the support of talented graduate students and postdocs.

Apply to become a Venture Catalyst fellow

Are you a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student or postdoc with a passion for expanding your business development skills and making a real-world impact by supporting startups? Apply now to join the 2021-2022 Venture Catalyst Program. We’re currently accepting applications for our new cohort of fellows — and the application deadline is Friday, July 23.

How the program works

The Venture Catalyst Program identifies faculty-founded startups from UNC-Chapel Hill that can benefit from business development support. The program then matches each startup with:

  • Entrepreneurial mentors. Subject matter experts who have expertise in the company’s technology or field of work and provide direct advice, connections and coaching.
  • Venture Catalyst fellows. A select number of doctoral and MBA candidates as well as postdocs who have a passion for new venture creation and support.

The program revolves around three pillars of activity and engagement:

Experiential learning. Fellows carry out specialized scopes of work that address the business development milestones of their assigned startups. Focus areas include primary market research, development plan creation, grant application preparation, company valuation and other critical functions. Fellows must commit five hours per week from October 2021 through March 2022 toward completing their scopes of work with their companies.

Educational foundation. Fellows will attend two CareerWell courses that build high-demand business development skills to immediately help the assigned startups address pressing business challenges and in the future as you pursue new professional paths. In addition, this training provides fellows with career building skills needed for professional paths beyond academia. Each course features seven class sessions.

  • Market Research: Assess and Validate Your Market (GRAD 716, 1.5 credits, Fall 2021)
  • Journey to Entrepreneurship: Building Your Startup Skillset (course code TBD, 1.5 credits, Spring 2022)

The result is an innovative skill-building, business-building hybrid that gives Venture Catalyst Fellows the chance to learn while collaborating with founders to explore new markets, uncover potential funding, engage in customer discovery and carry out other business essentials. This is an excellent opportunity to gain real-world experiences and develop critical professional skills beyond academic training.

Ecosystem networking. Mentors meet with Venture Catalyst Fellows bi-weekly to help guide each fellow’s scope of work throughout the course of the program. Each month, the founders, mentors and fellows meet to review company milestones, discuss deliverables and define next steps. Fellows, mentors and faculty members also have the opportunity to participate in virtual and hybrid networking events with individuals who are leaders of our regional entrepreneurial community centered around the Research Triangle Park.

Program partners

The Venture Catalyst Program is built on a partnership between organizations that work together to provide a variety of resources, learning experiences and business support for participating fellows and faculty founders.


KickStart Venture Services supports research-based startup formation and growth by providing education, early-stage funding, and on-campus accelerator space. KickStart also connects founders to key service providers, management, and investors in the local innovation ecosystem. KickStart leads the strategy and program management of the Venture Catalyst Program.


Innovate Carolina is the University-wide initaitive for innovation and entrepreneurship that helps faculty and students launch a greater number of ideas into the world to make a social and economic impact. The Vetnure Catalyst Program partnership with Innovate Carolina draws on a network of experts, tools and resources to support fellows and faculty founders.


CareerWell is a new program intended to help Carolina graduate students and alumni develop strategic skills that will future-proof their careers in the current and post-pandemic labor market. The Venture Catalyst Program partnership with CareerWell contributes to this holistic approach by guiding academic trainees to develop strategic skills through experiential learning.


As part of the program, you can expect the following timeline for experiential learning during 2021-2022:

  • July: Fellows and startup companies accepted into program.
  • August: Fellows begin taking Market Research course for fall semester.
  • August/September: Fellows and founders meet during the partnering process.
  • October: Fellows matched with startups.
  • November: Proposed scopes of work discussed; Founders present at Venture Catalyst Pitch Day; Bi-weekly meetings with mentors begin; Fellows begin scopes of work
  • January: Fellows begin taking Journey to Entrepreneurship course for spring semester.
  • January – March: Fellows continue scopes of work.
  • April: Fellows complete scopes of work and present final deliverables at Venture Catalyst Finals (date TBD).

Venture Catalyst Finals

To explore the progress and outcomes achieved during 2020-2021 cohort and presented during the Venture Catalyst Finals, read the story Venture Catalysts: The New Startup Problem Solvers.

2020-2021 Fellows


Michaela Copp

PhD Student, UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering


Jackie Gerhart

PhD Candidate, Eshelman School of Pharmacy; MBA Candidate, Kenan-Flagler Business School


Amy Kranz

Postdoctoral Fellow, Eshelman School of Pharmacy


Sisi Tran

PharmD Candidate, Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Looking for more information?

KickStart Venture Services is always interested in talking with founders who are interested in becoming paired with fellows as well as graduate students and postdocs who interested in participating in the Venture Catalyst Program.

For more information, please contact Judy Prasad, the Venture Catalyst Program lead with KickStart Venture Services.

Related Events

If you’re a startup founder or student interested in the Venture Catalyst Program, you may also want to explore the KickStart Presents series. These webinars cover a variety of topics that can be useful to entrepreneurs involved in building their ventures.