CONTEST ROUNDUP: The best startup competitions of 2020 for first-time founders to win up to $350,000 to grow their business


  • Business contests are a great way to test your idea, grow your network, and win cash to help grow your startup.
  • Business Insider has rounded up the best competitions that offer entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with investors and win prizes up to $350,000.
  • Check back periodically as this calendar will be updated with new information as we find more.
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories.

Business contests are a great way to test your idea, grow your network, and win cash to help grow your startup.

Business Insider has rounded up the best competitions that offer entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with investors and win prizes up to $350,000.

Many competitions are geared toward student businesses, and several have deadlines coming up fast. Most require you prepare a pitch deck and a detailed business plan to submit for consideration.

Continue reading to see when you need to apply, what the awards emphasize, and important eligibility considerations. 

If there’s a competition you think we should include, please get in touch via email.

SEE ALSO: The 20 most interesting ideas that will shape 2020 for entrepreneurs and innovators of all kinds

MUST READ: The first-time founder’s ultimate guide to pitching a VC and getting funding in 2020

January 8: SXSW Hatch Pitch and Cyber Hatch

Website: hatchpitch.com

Deadline: January 8, 2020 

Emphasis: Information Technology, Cyber Security

These competitions take place during SXSW in Austin on March 16, and the Houston Cyber Summit on April 28 and 29.

Eligibility: 

  • Must have launched within the past two years, or be launched within six months after the event.
  • Founders must retain some portion of ownership in the company.
  • Received less than $5 million in funding from 3rd party investors.
  • Presenter must actively participate in Hatch Pitch coaching.

January 13: MIT100K Launch, $100,000

Website: mit100k.org

Deadline: January 13, 2020, 11:59 pm EST

Emphasis: Comprehensive business plans, ready for market

Launch is the flagship competition of the MIT100K competitions. The other two, Pitch and Accelerate, offer prizes up to $5,000.

Eligibility: 

  • One idea per team, and one team per MIT student. Student member must have equity in the company.
  • Currently registered MIT students include all full-time and part-time undergraduates and graduate students, including PhD/doctoral candidates.
  • Equity funding limit is $250,000 if applying to Launch.

January 27: Rice Business Plan Competition, $350,000

Website: rbpc.rice.edu

Deadline: January 27, 2020, 11:59 pm CST

Emphasis: Energy, health, tech, and innovation

Forty-two teams will be selected to compete for a prize pool worth more than $1.5 million, including a $350,000 grand prize.

Eligibility: 

  • Must have at least two current student founders or management team members, and at least one of those is a current graduate-degree-seeking student.
  • Teams are capped at four members, and all members must be students.
  • Ideas must fall into one of four sector categories: Energy/Cleantech/Sustainability; Life Science/Digital Health/Medical Devices; Tech/Digital/IoT; and Other Innovations. 
  • Equity funding limit is $250,000 as of July 1, 2019.
  • Competing teams must submit a business plan and other materials by March 4.

February 12: New Venture Championship, $20,000

Website: business.uoregon.edu

Deadline: February 12, 2020

Emphasis: Business ideas conceived and developed during an academic program

Hosted by the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business, the NVC draws teams from around the US and the world to compete for a prize pool of $50,000.

Eligibility: 

  • Teams must have two to five students, with at least one enrolled in a graduate program, and have at least 50% of equity allocated to student members.
  • Submissions should be prepared under faculty supervision, and a faculty advisor must attest to the eligibility of the team.
  • Ventures that have generated revenue or raised equity capital from sources other than the members of the student team before the current academic year are not eligible.
  • Companies must have real corporate structures and financial statements that reflect real operating revenues and expenses.

February 26: Harvard New Venture Competition, $75,000

Website: hbs.edu

Deadline: February 26, 2020

Emphasis: New businesses, social impact

The Harvard Business School NVC features two tracks, Business and Social Enterprise, each with a $75,000 grand prize. 

Eligibility:

  • Must have at least one Harvard MBA student founder, with additional requirements for the Social Enterprise track.
  • Teams may only compete in one track, but individual students can participate on two teams to compete in both tracks.
  • Previous winners may not compete with the same idea as an earlier entry, but non-winners who can demonstrate significant growth may try again.
  • Seed capital is limited to $1.5 million, and revenue is capped at $2 million.
  • There is an early deadline on January 29 to receive written feedback from experts on your entry.

April: Visa Everywhere Initiative, $50,000 and $100,000

Website: global edition and women’s edition

Deadline: TBA

Emphasis: Fintech and social impact business services

The Visa Everywhere Initiative focuses on businesses across the globe that will impact the digital age of payment and commerce. Winners of the global edition win $50,000 and two final winners of the women’s edition win $100,000.

Eligibility:

  • Businesses within North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East
  • Should provide a solution that aligns with Visa’s brand positioning, “Wherever you want to be, Visa helps you get there,” by solving one of three business challenges given in the application
  • The women’s edition requires at least one woman founder or cofounder

April: TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, $100,000

Website: techcrunch.com

Deadline: TBA (Applications will open in the second quarter of 2020.)

Emphasis: Tech companies leading innovation in apps and hardware. 

Startup Battlefield takes place during the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference from September 14 to 16, 2020. Early-stage startups demo their business plans to compete for a $100,000 grand prize. 

Eligibility: 

  • Pre-Series A tech startups
  • Must have a functional prototype to demo to the selection committee
  • Companies can be in closed beta, private beta, or limited release
  • Preference is given to companies that launch to the public through the competition

July 14-18: Startupfest Investment Prizes, $100,000

Website: startupfestival.com

Deadline: July 16, 2020

Emphasis: A founder-focused event with an emphasis on inclusion

There was up to $1 million in prizes and investment money available at the 2019 StartupFest in Montreal, with the flagship $100,000 Investment Prize and a $100,000 prize solely for a female-led startup.

Eligibility: 

  • Prizes are open to any startup at the event, with no pre-registration required.
  • Female-led startups are those with the most senior member of the executive team identifying as female.
  • Attendees have until the end of Thursday of the event to track down an investor judge and pitch them on an idea in person.
  • Judges then invite their shortlisted startups to pitch to the group of judges at a breakfast on Friday morning.

August: Cartier Women’s Initiative, $100,000

Website: cartierwomensinitiative.com

Deadline: August

Emphasis: Women-owned businesses creating industry solutions with global social impact.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative awards women entrepreneurs leading innovative and sustainable businesses that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Seven laureates win $100,000 in prize money and 14 finalists receive $30,000. 

Eligibility: 

  • The woman entrepreneur applying must own a significant stake and hold the main leadership position.
  • Early-stage independent businesses (between one to five years of licensed or registered operations)
  • Business should not have raised more than $2 million in dilutive funding
  • An impact-driven business that aligns with at least one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

December: Hult Prize Accelerator, $1 million

Website: hultprize.org

Deadline: December

Emphasis: Profitable social or environmental impact through education, healthcare, energy, and innovation. 

In the Hult Prize Accelerator, teams from around the world compete for $1 million in seed capital. Their businesses must set out to make social or environmental impact on a global scale.  

Eligibility: 

  • Students from any college or university in the world
  • Business must be environmentally and socially responsible, aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Focused on large, untapped markets
  • Pursues revenue and sustainability



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