While ventures don’t always follow a neat, pre-determined trajectory (in fact, they only very rarely do!) the early resources needed to support venture development ought to. As such, venture support funds through the Nelson Center are designed with a loose “path” in mind, one consistent with our structured approach to venture creation. Our early Explore Grants — up to $250 — are focused on helping teams do the early and critical work of finding and validating an unmet need. Our subsequent Expand grants — up to $1000 — are designed to help teams build the product or service whose “value proposition” addresses that unmet need. Breakthrough Lab — our intensive, two-month summer accelerator — provides teams with a stipend and critical resources to take their ventures to the next level. And programs like the Brown Venture Prize are designed to support our most advanced founders as they launch their ventures here in Rhode Island and around the world.




Explore Grants

Up to $250

Explore grants are designed to fund a team’s early discovery work – so that they can better find and validate an unmet need. All venture types are encouraged to apply and have the opportunity to meet with Nelson Center staff to strategize how best to do their “bottom-up” research to determine what key assumptions and hypotheses they need to test. Nelson Center staff may also refer teams to Brown alumni and industry experts to help them with this research. Watch our Executive Director, Danny Warshay, present on “The Entrepreneurial Process: Bottom-Up Research” to learn more about our approach and process to the first step in finding and validating an unmet need.



Expand Grants

Up to $2,500

Expand grants are typically used to help a team that has identified an unmet need and is ready to start developing or testing a value proposition or solution to that need. For many teams Expand funding is critical for building a prototype, or some form of a “minimal viable product” that they can test against the problem they’ve identified. In many cases, this provides yet more information which they can use to iterate toward “product-market-fit”. Expand grantees work closely with Nelson Center staff to craft a plan, and often make use of industry mentors and alumni experts.



Breakthrough Lab

8-week Summer Accelerator

Brown University’s Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) is an intensive 8-week accelerator program designed to support student entrepreneurs developing high-impact ventures. Each participating team receives access to custom mentoring, a peer cohort of dedicated founders, and co-working space. For teams that require it, B-Lab will also provide access to lab facilities and relevant technical support.



Brown Venture Prize

Up to $25,000

The Brown Venture Prize is designed to empower the most advanced entrepreneurial ventures by Brown students. It supports teams who have identified a significant opportunity, and whose ventures have the potential to create “impact at scale”. The prize is agnostic with respect to what sectors or industries ventures are working in, or even whether they are commercial, social, or have blended approaches. The essential thing is that teams have identified an opportunity or challenge and are thinking big about how to solve it. The Brown Venture Prize is intended to help them accelerate and scale those solutions. Winners will receive prize money, critical mentorship, and access to leaders in the Brown entrepreneurial community and beyond.



When Brown entrepreneurs have left college hill, they have partnered with a variety of resources to help them continue building their ventures. For some, this means continuing into well-known accelerator programs while others are at the point where they are raising capital to support their efforts. Below are just a few in a growing list of those resources.



How do I apply for a grant?

It’s easy! Plan a time to meet with Jonas Clark, Associate Director for the Nelson Center ( He is here to listen to your idea and walk your through the next steps in ideation and bottom-up research. You then go to and search for “Explore & Expand Grants (Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship)”.

Do I have to be a commercial venture to apply?

Of course not! Explore and expand grants are designed to help early-stage ideas with “high-impact” potential, whether commercial, social, or, in many cases, some blend of the two. What matters most is that you are attempting to address an unmet need and are developing a working hypothesis. If your idea leans more towards social justice advocacy and change, we also recommend reaching out to the Social Innovation Initiative at the Swearer Center. Email for more info.

What are you looking for most in applicants?

Above all, we value passion for the problem. Do you have the willingness to work hard to find a solution? Take the time to conduct bottom-up research? The ability to deal with unclear answers is also a major plus, as well as a certain amount of resilience in order to cope with the inevitable pivots, dead-ends, and doubts that are an unavoidable part of the entrepreneurial process. Other than that, we know that great entrepreneurs come in all different forms and from all different backgrounds.

How far along does my idea have to be? 

It can be in the very early idea stage. These grants allow you to validate if you truly have found an unmet need. We recommend you watch Danny Warshay’s Bottom-Up Research Workshop video (, to understand the value in observation and learning more from your potential customer.

If I receive a grant from the Nelson Center, does it have any claim to part of my venture?

No! The Nelson Center is an “Equity Free” zone, meaning that we don’t take any ownership claim or have any other strings attached to our funding. Our goal — first and foremost — is to support outstanding Brown entrepreneurs. If (when?) you go on to great success our hope is that you’ll help pay it forward by supporting the next generation of Brown entrepreneurs!

If I win one of the top three prizes from the Brown Venture Prize, am I eligbile to participate in B-Lab, if accepted?

Yes! The Brown Venture Prize competition is designed to help support the financial needs of your venture. The B-Lab stipend is designed to help support your personal finances over the summer, whether that be housing or meals. We do not monitor how you use your B-Lab stipend, but that is the intent behind the stipend. During B-Lab, you are not eligibile to apply to Explore or Expand grants, but you may do so after the program concludes. Before applying, reach out to to assess whether or not an Explore or Expand Grant is appropriate for your venture’s progress.

Can I participate in B-Lab or the Brown Venture Prize more than once?

If you were already accepted and participated in a B-Lab cohort, you are ineligible to apply again. If you applied and did not get it, you are eligible to apply again! If you previously received one of the top 3 awards for the Brown Venture Prize, you are ineligible to apply again. If you were one of the top 8 ventures but did not win one of the prizes, you are eligible to apply again, if you are still a current student.

Can I apply to multiple Explore and Expand Grants?

It depends on the needs of your venture! Consult with, who can help your determine what the next best steps are for your venture. If you are working on a new venture, but previously received an Explore or Expand Grant for a different idea, you are still elibigle to apply.