Last year, what began as a research project here at the George Washington University Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship turned into a full-fledged list of the largest collegiate entrepreneurship competitions. We ranked the competitions by annual non-dilutive cash prizes, and as an experiment, we published the list on Medium. The response from our community and interested students was immediate.
This year, we’ve gone formal: We surveyed competitions across the country to develop the list. (You can see the list here.) We also expanded it by adding in-kind support, and total participants per competition, creating a weighted ranking that reflects the importance of all three factors. These criteria are a window into the strength of the school’s entrepreneurship programs and indicate internal and external entrepreneurial ecosystems to support students while in college and after they graduate. In addition, we surveyed for the percent of teams that included women (that data wasn’t used in the ranking, however). Also new this year: We have partnered with Times of Entrepreneurship, a new publication covering the entrepreneurship community, to disseminate the list.
We all know college students are increasingly interested in innovation and entrepreneurship as a career path. But many aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers are not aware of the opportunities at the collegiate level that provide seed funding, startup services, and access to a community of like-minded students eager to build businesses, startups, and social ventures. One of the hallmarks of a healthy, innovation ecosystem is entrepreneurship competitions, or pitch competitions, which are becoming more popular across college campuses.
Gen Z’s grew up during the explosion of technology companies out of Silicon Valley and New York, when the companies and the individuals behind them have been put on pedestals. Shark Tank has been around for 12 years, and the Mark Cubans, the Elon Musks have taken over a prestige factor in society that has resonated with young people.
Entrepreneurship as a career path is likely to beckon even brighter during the recovery from the pandemic. Innovative companies will be in demand as we rebuild the economy.
Practical experience is critical to learning entrepreneurial skills and methodologies. We want to help students understand which universities offer that experience developing ideas, business plans, working with teams, and pitching. Students will also seek to understand which institutions have support networks to get their ideas off the ground before and after they graduate.
We hope the list sparks discussion, broadens awareness for students, and contributes to evolving standards for our still-young academic discipline.
As we iterate on the list in the coming years, we’ll add more information and more schools, painting a more complete picture to help guide students. There are some obvious omissions from the list, which we hope to add next year, either through their participation or by gathering data from publicly available sources. If you’re interested in being surveyed for next year’s list, please email Scott Stein at [email protected]. You can see more about GW’s own New Venture Competition (ranked third in size) here: https://vimeo.com/480027703.
The largest competitions
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s $100k Entrepreneurship Competition ranked number one with $225,000 dollars awarded, $750,000 worth of in-kind support, and 650 students participating in the last academic year.
Rounding out the top five with a cumulative $1.1M+ in cash awards, $1.7M+ in in-kind support, and 2,689 participants annually are:
- Richard Barrentine Values and Venture Competition at Texas Christian University
- The GW New Venture Competition at The George Washington University
- Baylor New Venture Competition at Baylor University
- McCloskey New Venture Competition at the University of Notre Dame
Biggest jump from last year: Northwestern University’s VentureCat at #7
Northwestern University’s VentureCat competition made the biggest jump from 2019, moving up nine spots to number seven. “We want to make sure that people know this is not a business school competition, it’s not an engineering competition, it’s an opportunity for every Northwestern student-founder”, said Jessa Fuller, Senior Program Administrator of VentureCat.
VentureCat offered “amazing opportunities to learn and improve prior to the competition with the support of many mentors,” said Northwestern University sophomore Spencer Levitt. His team, Qade, was the second-place grand prize winner this past year. Qade is a free platform for friends to track lifetime gaming records, keep betting tabs, and talk some smack. With Qade, friends can brag about big wins and justify crushing defeats. Qade keeps track of gamers stats, standings, and betting tabs. Levitt plans to continue to develop Qade while in school and post graduation.
New to the list: University of Washington’s Dempsey Startup Competition at #20
“We are very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to touch so many students and help them on their journey, whether they actually move forward with their start-up,” Amy Sallin and Sarah Studer, director and assistant director, respectively, of the Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship told us by email.
Competitions like Dempsey allow students to hone-in on their innovation skills while providing a multitude of resources for post-graduation success. “We gained access to critical resources such as investment opportunities and partnerships which have proved to be crucial for our company’s success,” said Ryan Yousefian, whose team, ApnoMed, were winners of this year’s competition. ApnoMed, as it’s described, helps solve obstructive sleep apnea, which causes people to repeatedly stop breathing while they sleep, and can result in high blood pressure, depression, difficulty concentrating, headaches and other symptoms. Yousefian plans on fully launching ApnoMed after graduation.
For student innovators exploring their ideas while in college, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, the list below is a guide to those interested in pursuing innovation and entrepreneurship endeavors while at school.
The Top 20 Largest University-Sponsored Collegiate Entrepreneurship Competitions in the U.S.
1. MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2. Richard Barrentine Values and Venture Competition, Texas Christian University
3. GW New Venture Competition, George Washington University
4. Baylor New Venture Competition, Baylor University
4. McCloskey New Venture Competition, University of Notre Dame
6. Rice Business Plan Competition, Rice University
7. VentureCat, Northwestern University
8. Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, Smith College
9. Cozad New Venture Challenge, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
10. MN Cup, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
11. Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition, University of Texas at Austin
11. CREATE, Texas Christian University
13. New Venture Challenge, University of Colorado at Boulder
13. CMU Venture Challenge, Carnegie Mellon University
13. Pitch Dingman Competition, University of Maryland – College Park
16. Big Bang! Business Competition, University of California – Davis
17. Burgess New Venture Challenge, Michigan State University
18. Michigan Business Challenge, University of Michigan
19. RedHawk Venture Pitch Competition, Miami University (OH)
20. Dempsey Startup Competition, University of Washington
20. eGames, North Carolina State University