Top Unrestricted Cash Awards – University Business Plan Competitions

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 3.02.09 PMBelow are the top university business plan contests, in order, that offer unrestricted cash prizes as a part of their venture plan contests. Unrestricted cash awards focus on actual dollars going to start up teams, and exclude the value of in-kind services as well as cash provided in exchange for equity, convertible debt, or “terms to be arranged.”

 1. MIT

MIT has two main contest buckets: The $100K (which includes The Pitch Contest, the Accelerate Contest, and the Launch Contest) and Clear Energy. The Clean Energy Competition offers $200 in unrestricted cash prizes.  Eligibility: Clean Energy – CEP is open to any student, anywhere, who has a clean energy start-up idea that can change the world; $100K – Each team must have at least one currently registered MIT student.

 2. Harvard Business School

The Harvard Business School has a business track, social enterprise track, and alumni track totaling approximately $310,000 in unrestricted cash. There is conflicting information on the various Harvard sites so we’ve tried to put the pieces together for a general picture. The Business Track ($100k) and 2017 Alumni Track information appears to offer $105,000 each, which includes a $75k main prize, a $25k runner up, and $5k crowd favorite. The 2017 Business Track offers $100k in prizes for main and runner up.  Eligibility: Business track – Participating teams require at least one Harvard Business School MBA student who plays a primary role in the business; Social track – Teams must meet the two following criteria: 1) include at least one student who meets one of the criteria listed on our eligibility page; 2) be composed of a majority of Harvard University graduate students; Alumni – The venture must have an HBS alumni as a founder.

3. Rice Business Plan Competition

Rice cash prizes total $309,850 in unrestricted cash. There are many additional prizes that are not cash (in-kind), or with strings attached (e.g. money for equity in company). Eligibility: The startup teams competing at Rice must include at least two degree-seeking students, including at least one graduate level student.

 4. NYU Stern

NYU offers unrestricted cash prizes of $100k for New Venture, $75 K for Social Venture, and $100K for Tech.  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. Eligibility: Teams must have at least one qualifying NYU representative who holds a significant equity share of the venture and intends to play a material role in the development of the venture both during the Challenge and afterwards.


5. Columbia

The Columbia Venture Competition offers $200k in unrestricted cash prizes. Eligibility: The Columbia Venture Competition (CVC) is open to all current Columbia, Barnard, and Teachers College students, as well as recent alumni (five years or less from your most current degree) from those schools.

 6. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania offers two contests with unrestricted cash prizes. The Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition offers a $100k unrestricted cash prize. The Wharton School offers a $90k prize for its start-up challenge. Eligibility: For GSE – Organizations entering the competition may not have raised more than the equivalent of US$500,000 from all investors and founders since the beginning of the legal existence of the organization until the date the organization submits its Executive Summary and Application Form. For Start-up Challenge – Teams are permitted to have members who are not students at the University of Pennsylvania, but the team leader must lead the team and drive the venture development.

 7. University of Illinois – Urbana – Champagne

The University of Illinois Cozad New Venture Competition offers $175k in unrestricted cash prizes. Eligibility: The competition is for students enrolled on-campus in the current academic year.

 8. SUNY Polytechnic University

Suny Polytechnic University’s New York Business Plan Competition offers $160k in unrestricted cash prizes. Eligibility: Students of SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly), University at Albany’s School of Business, and Syracuse University.

 9. The George Washington University

The George Washington University offers $159k in unrestricted cash prizes via its Pitch George  and New Venture Competitions. Eligibility: At least one member of the team must be a currently enrolled GW student. It is required that the GW student be enrolled in a degree program, full-time or part-time, in a semester/term of the academic year in which the Competition takes place.

 10. University of North Carolina.

UNC’s Charlotte Venture Challenge offers $150k in unrestricted cash prizes. Eligibility: Eligible participants must have their primary business location in North Carolina. The contest is not restricted to only UNC students.

Other Competitions: Big Players

There are so many competitions popping up in the US, and around the world. Below are a couple of notable popular contests. Please see 2015 post for additional competitions.

We Work’s Creator Awards

Co-working space company We Work offers cash prizes ranging from $18k to $396k in a variety of competition categories. See We Work Creator Awards site for more info.

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E-FestScreen Shot 2018-03-30 at 2.58.13 PM

The National Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge offers $230k in prizes via eFest.

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.

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While very little information is available about this program online, we’ve heard first-hand accounts about the great experience student entrepreneurs have with this global competition. Click here for more. Additionally, EO is a global organization of entrepreneurs with million-dollar-plus businesses. They have a pipeline starting with student entrepreneurs, Accelerator (for $250k – $999k), and EO membership.

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 9.08.11 AM See a list of global competitions put together by BPC here.

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


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