The Top 20 University-Sponsored Collegiate Entrepreneurship Competitions in the U.S.

What are the best schools for student innovators and entrepreneurs to raise seed money?

Many people are familiar with university rankings. Each year, publications analyze endowments, standardized test scores, peer feedback, and more to determine the best universities and programs. A consideration for aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers: which universities award the most seed funding for students to launch business, startup, or social venture while in school?

The George Washington University’s Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship researched and ranked the top 20 U.S. university business plan competitions in terms of annual non-dilutive cash prizes awarded. The University of Pennsylvania leads the list, with over one million dollars awarded in the last academic year.

“The Penn Wharton Startup Challenge is the largest entrepreneurship competition of the year at the University of Pennsylvania, and its goal is to cultivate Penn’s amazing student ventures while inspiring others to pursue their own entrepreneurial path,” said Cathy Ogur, Associate Director at Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship. “Run by Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship, the Startup Challenge engages Penn student founders and team members, connecting them with resources and reinforcing the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.”

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Rice, Harvard, and NYU round out the top five spots, with a cumulative $2.5M+ awarded to student entrepreneurs annually.

The George Washington University makes the top ten at number eight. Alejandra Leiva, a GW graduate student and founder of a food-focused startup, shared how crucial collegiate funding was to her business. “Soon after I launched my company, an investor offered me 5-figure funding for a 50% stake of my business. After winning GW’s New Venture Competition and securing $35,000 in funding from the university for my business, I’ve received a much higher valuation from the same investor. Collegiate funding has been incredibly valuable to my business.”

Alejandra Leiva (left) and Nicole Levia (center) Co-Founders of Dulceology won the 1st place prize of $20,000 in the New Ventures Track in the 2019 George Washington University New Venture Competition. Forrest Maltzman, GW Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (right).

For student innovators exploring funding for their ideas while in college or graduate school, the list below can be important to consider.

The Top 20 University-Sponsored Collegiate Entrepreneurship Competitions

1. University of Pennsylvania: $1,060,000

2. University of Minnesota Twin Cities: $505,000

3. Rice University: $362,000

4. Harvard: $305,000

5. New York University: $275,000

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $252,000

7. Columbia University: $250,000

8. George Washington University: $212,250

9. University of Notre Dame: $209,500

10. University of North Carolina, Charlotte: $150,000

11. University of Michigan: $141,000

12. Baylor University: $130,250

13. University of California, Berkeley: $121,000

14. Texas Christian University: $105,705

15. Smith College: $102,750

16. Northwestern University: $102,000

17. Babson College: $97,000

18. SUNY Polytechnic Institute: $96,000

19. University of Massachusetts Amherst: $90,000

20. Purdue University: $88,000

By Scott Stein, Associate Director, Student Entrepreneurship Programs at the George Washington University, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship.


Methodology notes: GW considered non-dilutive cash grants, as reported by the schools’ websites. The amounts are overall totals of all competitions held the last academic year (fall 2018 to spring 2019) at each school. GW did not include competitions not affiliated with a university program and did not consider in-kind prizes.

GW Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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The hub of innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity at the George Washington University in Washington DC.

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