Top Unrestricted Cash Awards in Business Plan Competitions

February 24, 2015 at 8:30 pm 2 comments


Business plan competitions are booming. It’s a great way to bring visibility and momentum to your start-up. Even if you are not a winning company, a judge or attendee may see and like your idea and want to collaborate as a mentor, investor, or partner. There are actual tales of this happening, so get out there!


What do you want beyond exposure and momentum? Do you want an investor? What business services do you want or need?

This is why – below – the top contests, in order, that offer unrestricted cash prizes as a part of their contest. Some contests list a large number, but this will include:

  • The value of in kind services provided to teams
  • Cash provided in exchange for equity, convertible debt, or “terms to be arranged.”

Other competitions that combine their cash and prizes, are listed below along with some top resource lists and a new “wow” entry to the market.


These competitions serve as a marketplace to meet partners, advisors, and investors and gain visibility and momentum. Just know what you are getting into if you win. Below, as the competition sites indicate, the cash is yours free and clear.

2018 note: This post has been updated


1. Rice Business Plan Competition

 Rice is back on the top of our list, having boosted their unrestricted cash prizes since our last post. Rice’s website notes this competition is, “The world’s richest and largest graduate-level business plan competition.” When looking over the detailed prize page, the cash prizes with no restrictions total $450,000. The total prizes (including unrestricted cash) total $1.5 million (or more). Sometimes, more is awarded by a partner firm than promised based on the company selected. This is noted on the prize page in a specific category where a $100,000 promise turned into a $1,000,000 award/investment. Rice advertises 1.5+ total million in cash and prizes

 2. MIT

  • $375K in unrestricted cash ($100K contest and $275K Clean Energy Competition)
  • Link:

MIT has two main contest buckets: The $100K – which includes The Pitch Contest, the Accelerate Contest, and the Launch Contest (launch is where the money appears to be given away). An MIT email is required (meaning a student or alum) for entry.

The Clean Energy Competition appears to be worth $275 in unrestricted cash prizes, although it’s very hard to find prize detail. In our experience, this area (energy) does offer cash from Department of Energy and other sources vs investors – so – it is possible. If this is your area, it’s worth reading up here. 

 3. NYU Stern

The NYU Stern describes the business plan competition as “8 grueling months” and they are looking for “not any old idea.” Teams must have at least 1 current NYU student or Stern alumnus and note: “Prior startup experience or business background is not required!  All NYU students, faculty, researchers and alumni are welcome to compete.” There is a $150 entry fee.  NYU also lists in-kind services as additional prizes.

 4. Harvard Business School

The Harvard Business School New Venture Competition “provides a unique opportunity for HBS students—working with classmates and others—to investigate and launch a new business venture.” To enter, you need to have a Harvard MBA on your team. Useful for others outside HBS: The “find a team” button on the main page with directions for linking up with venture teams. In kind prizes are also provided.

  • Bonus: There is an Alumni Competition (this information delivered frequently via email, so be sure your alumni info is updated.)

5. GW: George Washington University

“The GW Business Plan Competition provides GW students, faculty, and alumni with a real world educational experience in developing, testing, and launching their own startups. The competition fosters entrepreneurship at GW through workshops, mentoring, non-dilutive cash grants, in-kind prizes, networking opportunities, publicity, and concept validation.” Recently, GW has required Lean Start Up canvasses from contestants helping to further bridge real-world skills with the business plan competition environment. GW in-kind prizes are valued at $83,370

6. Purdue

The annual business plan competition encourages Purdue students to develop their unique ideas for new products or services into a profitable business. Student teams learn how to write an effective business plan, while competing for cash prizes. To participate a team member must be a student, faculty, alum or a local resident with a connection to the university. Enrolled Purdue students must make the final presentations to the judges. Ice Miller LLP will provide free legal and consulting services to the top three finishers in the Gold Division. The total value of the services will be $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place, and $2,000 for third place.

 7. University of Pennsylvania: Wharton School of Business

The business plan competition “helps student entrepreneurs and their teams develop and launch their businesses, and provides a network for brainstorming, feedback, and future business opportunities.” A member of the team must be a student at the University of Pennsylvania. A variety of in-kind prizes are offered, primarily in the form of professional services, as well as a fellowship.


Other Competitions: Big Players

New York Goes Big: 43 North43 North - Big Business Plan Competition - on list by Kathy Korman Frey

Uh – where did they come from?

They sprung, fully grown, from the head of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative and now offer $5 million in cash and prizes. As 43North says on its website, it “gives out $5 million in cash prizes each year to some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs and startups from around the globe.” “We came on the scene in 2014…” the group humbly adds.

The Donald W Reynold’s Governors Cup

Donald W. Reynolds is the governor of Oklahoma. His Governor’s Cup is, according to the site, “A statewide collegiate business plan competition that simulates the real world process of researching a market, writing a business plan and making a presentation to potential investors. With the Governor’s Cup competition, we are proving that Oklahoma has the resources and commitment to grow more entrepreneurs who will lead future startups that will create jobs and wealth for the state.” Over the 10 year history of the contest, the site notes that 1350 college students have participated, $1.4 million has been awarded cash, $65 K in scholarships and $201 K in fellowships.

A unique aspect of this state-wide, public-private partnership is featuring bringing in valuable, but little known resources such as SBIR grants (Small Business Innovation Research).

University of Chicago

The agreement of participation for University of Chicago necessitates giving up an equity stake in the company, hence taking it off our top seven “unrestricted cash list” but a great program offering significant prizes, four categories (Traditional, Social, Global, and College), and support resources: “NVC teams have access to the ARCH Venture Partners New Business Incubator, housed within the Polsky Center.”

  • Traditional and Social categories require a University of Chicago student to be on the team and offers $300K+ in cash/prizes.
  • Global requires two current Chicago Booth Executive MBA students. The prize amount is not specified.
  • College is exclusively for University of Chicago students and offers approximately $30,000 in cash/prizes.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford GSB does not have a business plan competition, per se, but does have a program called BASES: “BASES Challenge is an annual startup competition that awards funding to aspiring Stanford entrepreneurs. Students and alumni enter their business or social venture ideas to compete for $100,000 in prize money and developmental opportunities.” To participate you must have a Stanford student or alum on your team

Tufts University

The Tufts venture competition includes traditional and social ventures. “Tufts Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program has sponsored an annual business plan competition that awards $100k in cash and in-kind services (legal and advisory services) to the winning teams.” We had to find this information on another site, unable to find the prize breakdown on the Tufts site. You must have a current student, faculty member, or alumnus (5 years out) on the team or a member of a partner school.

Cupid’s Cup – University of Maryland

Cupid’s Cup with Kevin Plank (Under Armor) at University of Maryland is not a business plan competition, but a business model competition. You must be a degree seeking student or 5-year out alum.

Other Competitions and Resources

We’re university-heavy here, and threw in 43 North, but check out other competitions (around the world) at this site. It doesn’t have everything, but it has a lot.

University of California at Berkley: Haas School

The Haas School has a three-month program called Launch: “LAUNCH is a transformative startup accelerator program and competition that guides companies from validated product to fundable business. Participants have access to proven development curriculum, world-class mentors, and real venture capitalist feedback.” The prize or honor appears to be getting accepted. There appear to be creative approaches to social venture and venture capital fields at Haas.

The Levy Entrepreneurial Institute at Kellogg

For Teens

Good rewards: Major Deals

This Entrepreneur Magazine by Princeton Review article was an eye-opener:

The lists of awards WAY exceed the contests stated amount. Every entry past #1 (Rice) exceeds what is publicly listed on the university site. So, check out University of Utah, University of Virginia (Darden), University of Oklahoma, and what Harvard is REALLY giving out vs saying on their website. Thus, we are thinking “deals” may be done at these specific competitions. Keep this in mind, not just the award. Who will you meet and partner with at the competition?

More from EITC (Entrepreneur in the Classroom)

More Information The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization promoting the importance of small business and free enterprise to the nation’s youth. More information is available at The Foundation is associated with the National Federation of Independent Business; NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals.

Entrepreneur In The Classroom. The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) supplemental curriculum exposes students to entrepreneurship and the necessary steps to take an idea and turn it into a business. The free curriculum for educators can be integrated into classes teaching a variety of subjects including music, art, fashion, business and many more. Just register for full access to the Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom curriculum. Click here for more.

Related links

Follow NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Twitter

Like NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Facebook

Follow EITC curriculum author Kathy Korman Frey on Twitter

Entry filed under: Business Planning, Entrepreneur, Money, Resources, Young Entrepreneur. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Entrepreneurship Educators Need to be Rewarded too!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kiye Sic  |  August 6, 2018 at 11:00 pm

    great blog!

  • 2. Norman Meier  |  September 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

    I read your blog you give such a relevant information , thanks for sharing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address

Join 22,822 other followers


Blog Stats

  • 131,317 hits

%d bloggers like this: