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Startup Competition Guide: A Giant List of The Best Business Contests


Startup competitions. The trial-by-fire opportunity that could launch your dream into reality.

You don’t have to win a startup competition to experience the benefits. Each competition that we have carefully researched offers networking and resource opportunities for every participant. But winning sure does come with its perks, too!

In total, the competitions below offer more than $3 million in fuel for your dreams. Ready to grab your piece of the pie?

Additions, Recommendations, and Media

For media, press or blog inquires, and to suggest new competitions for this guide, contact our team at

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Axel Springer Plug & Play Accelerator

ENTRY DEADLINE: 10/15/2015


DESCRIPTION: Launched in 2013, the Axel Springer Plug & Play Accelerator is a Berlin-based accelerator looking for digital entrepreneurs. They provide global opportunities from day one, through their international network in Europe and Silicon Valley.


Eligibility: N/A

Awards & Prizes:

Sponsors: N/A

Year Started: 2013

Previous Winners: Apparently Different, Book A Street Artist, Careship, and many more



2016 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Competition



DESCRIPTION: The eighth annual SXSW Accelerator startup competition will take place in Startup Village® on Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13. A live audience as well as a panel of expert judges will discover advancements in various sectors of emerging technology.

JUDGING CRITERIA: A committee of technology experts will screen each application to make sure that they meet all requirements, and review each entry to decide which products or services are the most innovative.

Eligibility: A company’s product / service must have launched no earlier than March 12, 2015. A company’s product / service must not be launched after June 12, 2016. Companies will be allowed to submit only one product / services to the SXSW Accelerator event. Companies who submit more than one product / services will not be eligible to participate in the SXSW Accelerator startup competition.

Founders of the applying startup must retain some portion of ownership in the company to be eligible to participate. Must not have raised over five million in funds from combined funding sources. Product or service must fall within one of the SXSW Accelerator startup competition categories.

Awards & Prizes: The winning companies will receive premium prize packages containing valuable tech-related goodies. They will also be given photo and interview opportunities with the attending technology and venture press, placing them in the spotlight as leaders in the future of technology.

The winning prizes include two (2) Interactive badges for the 2017 SXSW Interactive event, various SXSW Accelerator sponsor gifts and, most importantly, the opportunity to receive exposure to the SXSW audience looking out for the latest in cutting-edge technology. Additional prizes will be announced as the event date approaches.

Sponsors: AllianceTech, Grande Communications, Umbel, and many more

Year Started: 2009

Previous Winners: PartPic, Tinitell, BrandYourself, and many more



The 2016 William James Sustainable Business Plan Competition

ENTRY DEADLINE: 11/13/2015


DESCRIPTION: Presents an excellent opportunity for entrants to receive high end constructive comments on their sustainable business plans, as well as interact with mentors, make valuable connections, and compete for cash, in-kind prizes and various awards. Winners are selected from both Idea-Phase and Venture-Phase categories in this decade-old contest.

JUDGING CRITERIA: Judged on the quality of the business plan’s product/service, market, strategy, operations, financials, team, presentation, and social and/or environmental impact, along with overall viability.

Eligibility: You must be starting or growing a for-profit company. You must still be seeking feedback on your business model. You can be pre- or post-revenue. You must have a social, environmental,and/or cultural goal that affects how your company makes money. These kinds of companies go by many names: Multiple-Bottom-Line, Social Enterprise, Common Good Enterprise, etc.

The MCN seeks companies where your social values make your company stronger financially. You must be interested in working mentors who can provide meaningful, actionable feedback on a written business plan.

Awards & Prizes: We have several cohorts and prize categories. Our prizes are cash and professional services that are worth more than $60,000. Finalists pick from the prize pool in order of finish, to better match you to a prize you can use.

Sponsors: The Acacia Fund, Stiefel Family Foundation, Worldways Social Marketing, and many more

Year Started: 2004

Previous Winners: Sanivation, Eqalix, RemitRight, and many more



The Hult Prize 2016

ENTRY DEADLINE: 12/18/2015


DESCRIPTION: The Hult Prize is a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from the world’s universities.

Named as one of the top five ideas changing the world by President Bill Clinton and TIME Magazine, the annual competition for the the Hult Prize aims to identify and launch the most compelling social business ideas—start-up enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people.

Winners receive USD 1 million in seed capital, as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community.


Eligibility: Students past or present from any college or university in the world are invited to form teams of 3-4. There are only two conditions: 1) All participants must have a connection with the same school. 2) A maximum of one alumnus who cannot also be a faculty member of the school. You are considered a student if at the time of application submission, you have not yet graduated.

Awards & Prizes: $1,000,000 in startup funding

Sponsors: Hult Business School, Clinton Global Initiative, and many more

Year Started: 2010

Previous Winners: NanoHealth, Aspire Food Group, Sunny Money, and many more



ReleaseIt at SXSW



DESCRIPTION: ReleaseIt at SXSW is a special pitch competition in Startup Village® on the opening day of the SXSW Interactive Festival. Ten cutting-edge companies launching a new product or service during the 2016 SXSW season will present to a panel of industry experts and a winner will be chosen based on which product or service is most likely to succeed in the marketplace.

JUDGING CRITERIA: A committee of technology experts will screen each application to make sure that they meet all requirements, and review each entry to decide which products or services are the most innovative.

Eligibility: A company’s product / service must have launched no earlier than Friday, January 1, 2016. A company’s product / service must not be launched after Tuesday March 15, 2016. Companies will be allowed to submit only one product or service to ReleaseIt at SXSW.

Companies who submit more than one product or service will not be eligible to participate in ReleaseIt at SXSW. Companies can not have presented in any of the following events: SXSW Accelerator, SXSW ECO Startup Showcase, SXSW V2Venture or LAUNCHedu.

Awards & Prizes: N/A

Sponsors: AllianceTech, Umbel, Brightcove, and many more

Year Started: 2009

Previous Winners: Honest Dollar, Cord Cruncher, DRAFT, and many more



GW New Venture Competition



DESCRIPTION: The GW New Venture Competition (formerly the GW Business Plan Competition) provides GW students, faculty, staff and alumni with a real-world educational experience in developing, testing, and launching their own startup ventures.



Awards & Prizes: Over $220,000 in cash and in-kind prizes

Sponsors: Luther King Capital Management, AARP, WeWork, and many more

Year Started: 2009

Previous Winners: Means Database, Quorum, Asepsis, and many more



2016 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest



DESCRIPTION: The mission of the Governor’s Business Plan Contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the seed, startup and early growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital.

JUDGING CRITERIA: BPC judges include investors, academics, experienced entrepreneurs and other professionals interested in the development of high-growth companies that will define Wisconsin’s future

Eligibility: Wisconsin residents 18 years old or older, and who have a business plan that employs or leverages technology. Examples of technology include an eCommerce platform, a life sciences application or an advanced manufacturing process or system.

Awards & Prizes: $100,000 in cash prizes

Sponsors: SCORE, AT&T, Nordic, and many more

Year Started: 2004

Previous Winners: bluDiagnostics, Intelligent Composites, Hunt Butler, and many more



The UNM Business Plan Challenge 2016



DESCRIPTION: The UNM Business Plan Competition offers a high-profile, real-world challenge at the University of New Mexico where student teams present business ideas to judges from the local entrepreneurial, industry and government sectors to compete for startup funding and other prizes in two competitive categories.

The Competition offers the participating teams exposure to community business leaders and to potential funding from venture capitalists for their firms. Over the past 10 years, the UNM Business Plan Competition has awarded $575,000 in prize money to 45 student companies in the past 10 years.


Eligibility: The competition is open to all University of New Mexico students enrolled in at least one course during the summer 2013, fall 2013, or spring 2014 semester and UNM alumni who have graduated after January 1, 2007

Awards & Prizes: Up to $25,000 cash prize

Sponsors: Lockheed Martin, Sandia National Labs, TVC, and many more

Year Started: 2005

Previous Winners: Postgrad App, Ground State, As Girls Grow, and many more



New Venture Championship 2016



DESCRIPTION: The New Venture Championship (NVC) is presented annually by the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business. It is the original six-round business competition for graduate students.

NVC has evolved into the premiere international entrepreneurial investment competition since it was founded in 1992. The 16 accepted teams have an opportunity to share their ventures and grow as both entrepreneurs and students.



Awards & Prizes: $60,000 in cash prizes

Sponsors: Columbia Sportswear, Palo Alto Software, Rogue Venture Partners, and many more

Year Started: 1992

Previous Winners: Ecogent, Thammasat University, Redigen, and many more



San Diego Social Innovation Challenge



DESCRIPTION: The Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) is a student social venture contest organized by the Center for Peace and Commerce at the University of San Diego

Through the SIC, university students in San Diego generate ideas for innovative ventures that respond to a social, economic, environmental, or justice issue of their choice, and compete for seed funding to launch or expand their ventures. Social ventures may be for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid models with a domestic or international focus.


Eligibility: This is a student-based, academic challenge. Any USD student, graduate or undergraduate, is eligible to compete in the “USD Track”.

In order to be eligible to apply for the “San Diego Track” of the University of San Diego Social Innovation Challenge, you must be a degree-seeking university student enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester (or quarter equivalent) as an undergraduate or 6 units per semester (or quarter equivalent) as a graduate student during at least one of the semesters or quarters of the 2015-2016 academic school year.

Students must be enrolled in a university which is physically based in San Diego County and attend that branch/extension located within the county for those attending universities headquartered outside of San Diego with branches in the county.

Awards & Prizes: Up to $18,000 in cash and prizes

Sponsors: Moxie Foundation, Verizon, University of San Diego, and many more

Year Started: 2011

Previous Winners: CAPE, Foxbat Dynamics, Pacific Clean Tech, and many more



TU Incubator



DESCRIPTION: Our annual Business Plan Competition is a region-wide initiative, open to anyone in the Baltimore-Washington area. The goal of this competition is to encourage entrepreneurship, small business growth, and innovation.

The winner receives a 90-day incubator membership valued at $5,000, including office space, and mentoring and advisory services, along with a cash prize.


Eligibility: Pre-start up or early stage innovative businesses or entrepreneurs from the Baltimore-Washington, DC, region (including university faculty, staff and students and the broader community)

Awards & Prizes: Cash prize along with 90 day membership at Towson Global valued at $5,000

Sponsors: M&T Bank, Odd Brain Creative, 99designs, and many more

Year Started: 2010

Previous Winners: SeeFuture, ShapeU, Rehabtics, and many more



2016 North of Boston Business Plan Competition



DESCRIPTION: Are you a new, emerging or growing company located in Essex County or Merrimack Valley? We are looking for companies to enter the eleventh annual North of Boston Business Plan Competition.


Eligibility: Startups (including not yet operational) less than 3 years old may apply and early stage growth businesses may apply. Growth companies may be older than 3 years but developing growth through a new product, service line, expansion or implementing a new strategic plan. Growth trajectory MUST be clear to be eligible.

Applicants must be located in the North of Boston/Merrimack Valley or must relocate to the area. If the plan is for a startup business, that business must commit to locating in the North of Boston/Merrimack Valley. Businesses with existing professional venture investment are not eligible. Any non-venture funded Business is eligible.

Business must have plans to grow by at least 5 full time or FTE employees in addition to the founders or existing workforce within three years. Non-profit organizations are ineligible.

Awards & Prizes: Up to $10,000 cash

Sponsors: 128 Innovation Capital Group, Amesbury Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bertolon School of Business, and many more

Year Started: N/A

Previous Winners: Far From The Tree, CrowdComfort, LearLabs, and many more



FAU Business Plan Competition 2016



DESCRIPTION: Welcome to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Business Plan Competition. The competition is offered each spring semester. All students, faculty, and entrepreneurs within the community may be eligible to participate.

The competition is hosted by the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and the College of Business in Boca Raton, Florida designed to impact the local economy through the spirit of entrepreneurism.


Eligibility: Eligibility to participate in the FAU Business Plan Competition is initially determined by meeting the deadlines and submission requirements. FAU Student and Entrepreneur Track participants should review all eligibility criteria as detailed within the competition Office Rules.

FAU faculty and staff will select judges based on their business experience and investing expertise particularly in connection with entrepreneurship, and their interest in supporting early stage entrepreneurs. Past judges include representatives from Fortune 100 companies, prominent local law firms, finance consultants and venture capital investors. Business plan submissions are made and screened in a preliminary round by faculty & subject matter experts.

A total of 16 finalist teams (eight in each track) will advance to the final round to compete in the FAU Business Plan Competition. For more information on the judging process please download the Official Competition Rules.

Awards & Prizes: Up to $51,000 in cash plus mentoring

Sponsors: Research Park at FAU, The Chester Foundation, Gunster, and many more

Year Started: 2009

Previous Winners: SoFla Sunwear, Rotation Manager, Let It Rot, and many more



N100 Startup Competition



DESCRIPTION: Northumberland, Ontario, Canada’s annual $100,000 startup competition.



Awards & Prizes: $100,000 and entrepreneurial support

Sponsors: Spark Centre, MathWorks, PitchBurner, and many more

Year Started: 2012

Previous Winners: Qoints, Linkitz, UCIC, and many more



The Startup Challenge 2016



DESCRIPTION: The Startup Challenge new venture competition held in Monterey, California is an opportunity for prospective entrepreneurs, start-ups and emerging companies to showcase their ideas and business concepts.

The Challenge connects regional entrepreneurs to other entrepreneurs, funders, consultants, support programs, regional and local angels and venture capitalists. The Challenge is a tool that strengthens our regional start-ups and emerging businesses by providing entrepreneurs with the best foundation possible.

JUDGING CRITERIA: Judges will be a panel of experienced investors.

Eligibility: Anyone is aEligible but if they are under 21, their legal guardians must sign the entry form.

Awards & Prizes: Up to $20,000 cash plus $10,000 in legal and other services

Sponsors: FORA, Wells Fargo, Salinas, and many more

Year Started: 2009

Previous Winners: Mooki, Eagle Eye Agricultural Technologies, Cridder Ridder, and many more



Rhode Island Business Plan Competition 2016



DESCRIPTION: The Rhode Island Business Plan Competition has been organized to promote entrepreneurship and the development of start-up and early stage companies in Rhode Island by encouraging submission of plans of original business concepts that will lead to the development of new growth businesses in Rhode Island.



Awards & Prizes: $200,000 worth of prizes

Sponsors: Providence Journal Charitable Fund, Cumulus Media-Providence, Edwards Wildman, and many more

Year Started: 2001

Previous Winners: Nordic Technology Group, Haverhill Incorporated, JumpOffCampus, and many more



Shopify Build a Business


ENTRY FEE: Shopify store fees

DESCRIPTION: Shopify hosts a competition for online entrepreneurs to think up a product idea, create an online shop and then successfully market and sell the product. Entrants receive mentorship from four well-known, successful entrepreneurs as well as guidance and advice from the Shopify community.

JUDGING CRITERIA: We determine the winners based on your Highest Gross Sales for your two months with the highest revenue, whether those months are consecutive or not.

For example, if your store’s top two sales months are October and December, we would calculate your Highest Gross Sales by adding October and December’s sales. For the competition, we will use the top two calendar months between October 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016.

Eligibility: Shopify stores opened during a certain time period.

Awards & Prizes: An exclusive week of hands-on mentorship with some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the world, as well as exclusive access and full accommodations at the world-famous Oheka Castle — aka The Great Gatsby mansion.

Sponsors: PayPal, MailChimp, Xero, and many more

Year Started: 2010

Previous Winners: Coffee Joulies, DODOcase, GameKlip, GoldieBlox, and many more



eMerge Americas 2016 Startup Showcase



DESCRIPTION: eMerge America’s Startup Showcase brings together a world-class array of early and later stage companies to highlight innovation and disruptive technology.





Awards & Prizes: Up to $100,000 in cash and prizes

Sponsors: Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade County, Medina Capital, and many more

Year Started: 2014

Previous Winners: Joox Music, Symptify LLC, VSN Mobil Inc, and many more



New York StartUP! 2016 Business Plan Competition



DESCRIPTION: The New York Public Library in conjunction with its sponsor, Citi Foundation, is proud to announce the 5th Annual New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition for New York-based startup entrepreneurs with cash prizes totaling over $30,000.

Entrants gain practical insights about starting and growing a business, while using the comprehensive small business resources at NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).

JUDGING CRITERIA: The judges will evaluate each Business Plan based on the following

Eligibility: You must live in Manhattan, The Bronx, or Staten Island. Your business must be in Manhattan, The Bronx, or Staten Island. All businesses must have ideas or business models in the start-up phase and have earned less than $10,000.

Awards & Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $15,000

Sponsors: Citi Foundation & New York Public Library

Year Started: 2010

Previous Winners: Harlem Chocolate Factory, Just Jazzy Cakes, Field & Clover, and many more



1ST50K Startup Competition



DESCRIPTION: 1ST50K is a startup competition for startup business ideas that offers extensive support from a broad business network, pro-bono development services, and up to $50,000 in cash grants to entrepreneurs to establish or locate their businesses in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

JUDGING CRITERIA: As our judges and competition committee review applications, they will consider: the innovation of the product, technology or service; product-market fit; the scalability of the business model; the total impact (including sales, social value, impact on users, partners, etc.); and the qualities of the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team – their level of talent, diversity, and qualities which are value additive to the company.

Eligibility: 1ST50K is looking for innovative technologies, products, or services, driven by scalable business models with regional, national or international impact. We seek to attract entrepreneurs who are already located in Cape Girardeau OR are willing to relocate here. Basing your business in Cape Girardeau is a prerequisite for receiving a grant.

Our network of entrepreneurs, partners and business leaders are investing their time and resources in making the Cape Girardeau startup scene even stronger. 1ST50K Startup Competition is an industry-agnostic competition. Our focus is on supporting businesses that are innovative and scalable, regardless of the industry.

Awards & Prizes: Up to $50,000 in cash grants plus business development services, pro bono services, and access to a broad network of successful entrepreneurs

Sponsors: Codefi, Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, The Bank of Missouri, Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce

Year Started: 2015

Previous Winners: Nutlock




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