Funding a startup can be challenging. You need to decide whether you plan on offering equity (and how much), where you should look for investors, and how you should pitch. This is even more challenging when you don’t even have a full-blown business yet, but just an idea.
This is where startup competitions can save the day — and your entrepreneurial dreams. Competitions provide networking opportunities, media coverage, and the opportunity to land capital and acquire valuable resources. Any person looking for capital for their business idea should seriously consider startup competitions as a viable option.
In this article, we have researched and evaluated the 15 best startup competitions available this year. Don’t miss the end of the article, where you can find all of the links to applications for pitching your idea.
What Is a Startup Competition?
Startup competitions are competitive events where entrepreneurs pitch their startup or startup idea, typically to a group of investors, coaches, or mentors, as well as the media. Winners of these types of events usually gain investment capital, networking opportunities, and often valuable business resources.
Requirements can vary for different competitions. Some competitions are open to anyone, while others have requirements such as the founder of the startup being a woman or a student. There can also be industry-specific requirements, as some competitions may only want contestants in the healthcare technology sector, for example.
1. SXSW Pitch
One of the most popular competitions around is the SXSW Pitch Competition. Taking place this year in Austin, Texas, startup founders have the opportunity to pitch their companies in front of industry experts, venture capitalists, and the media.
From 2009-2020, 82% of participating companies received funding, with a grand total of $14.5 billion in funding for SXSW Pitch alumni. Of these 572 companies, 17% have been acquired by companies such as Google, Huffington Post, Apple, OpenTable, and Constant Contact.
Prize: Funding/seed money. Amount varies
2. Y Combinator and “Demo Day”
Y Combinator is one of the best ventures for funding startups. They select startups that are in their infancy, providing them invaluable support via investor meetings, networking, and more. Every startup is vetted by an experienced group of investors and venture capitalists.
You must have at least 10% equity in the startup to be considered a founder by Y Combinator. Founders can come to interviews only if invited, or attend batch events if accepted.
Y Combinator also has a biannual event called Demo Day. This event (as of now it is virtual) allows startups the opportunity to pitch to 1,500 investors and media.
Website: Y Combinator: https://www.ycombinator.com/apply/
Y Combinator Demo Day: https://www.ycombinator.com/demoday/
3. America’s Seed Fund
If you are in the early stages of your business and need funds to get your product developed, America’s Seed Fund is a great option. The funding option offers financing for early-stage R&D and takes no equity in your company.
They regularly host a virtual question-and-answer session for startups and small businesses to learn about the program and the project pitch process.
America’s Seed Fund accepts project pitches at any time — 24/7, 365 days a year. Typically, it takes about one month to get an official response from NSF staff.
4. Startup World Cup
Startup World Cup is the largest competition for startups from around the world. It includes over 500 speakers, 50,000 global attendees, and 2,500 investors. This competition hosts 70+ regional events across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, with the finalists competing this year in the final round in San Francisco.
This is a high-level competition with a prize amount of $1,000,000 for the winners. They encourage startups in any domain, at any stage, to apply. But it is important to note that the startup must be a legal entity, not just an idea.
5. Web Summit PITCH
The Web Summit startup competition, called PITCH, showcases the startups disrupting their industries and introduces them to the world’s leading investors, companies, and media.
6. MIT $100K Pitch
Competition brings together students and researchers from MIT and across Greater Boston to launch their talent, ideas, and technology into leading companies. The competition runs a series of distinct, increasingly intensive contests: PITCH, ACCELERATE, and LAUNCH.
The one downside is that each team must have at least one currently registered MIT student. However, currently registered MIT students include all full-time and part-time undergraduates and graduate students, including doctoral candidates.
Website: Rules — MIT $100K (mit100k.org)
CodeLaunch is the seed accelerator event that pairs early-stage tech startups with professional software development teams to accelerate their trajectory toward MVP, seed funding, and beyond.
CodeLaunch is perfect for first-time founders, both technical and non-technical alike. No equity is taken by CodeLaunch, which is a nice perk. Over the life of these events, over $8.5 million in funding has been raised by CodeLaunch startups.
8. SPIE Startup Challenge
The SPIE Startup Challenge is held annually at Photonics West. This competitive event invites new entrepreneurs to pitch their light-based technology business plan to a team of business development experts and investors. The focus is on new businesses and potential startups. Students, post-docs, professors, and other first-time business starters are encouraged to apply.
The most recent competition was only accepting startups in two categories: healthcare and deep tech companies (scientific or engineering innovation, not software apps).
9. Hello Tomorrow Global Summit/Challenge
The Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge is a competition designed for science and deep tech entrepreneurs. Track winners will get customized coaching sessions by experts and personal introductions with relevant investors, potential partners, and clients.
In order to be eligible to apply, the startups must meet the following criteria:
• In the early stage of development or the beginning of their commercialization phase (up to Series A)
• Based on new technology, a scientific discovery, or a complex engineering process
• Addressing an industrial, societal, or environmental unmet need, or creating a new market
• Composed of a team of at least two people
• Not a subsidiary or spin-off of an existing company
Prize: Grand prize: €100K ($108,000); 2nd place: €30K ($32,500); 3rd place: €20K ($21,700)