Startup Competitions @ Arizona State University
Startup competitions are a good way to not only raise some capital without losing equity, but also to gain pitching experience and opportunities to connect with potential mentors.
The amount of funding sources available at ASU is unbelievable. I would add that some of these competitions have different restrictions from the programs that you and your cofounders are enrolled in, to the amount of funding that your startup has raised so far. Definitely read through the requirements and attend their information sessions to make sure you are eligible for it before putting in all your time to prepare the required documents.
You should also work on your startup’s documentation and review if you are on track with your own vision. A lot of times you get sidetracked easily due to being attracted by the prize money but then forget the cause you were actually working on. This is really crucial as it has happened from time to time that people ended up being in this vicious cycle and became a “grant-repreneur”.
I broke down the funding/grant types into 3 categories where each of them represents a different stage.
Early / Ideation stage
I define early stage as the ideation stage. You have the idea and have done some basic research (prototyping/survey) to prove that there is a certain interest in your product. If you are struggling to get a prototype or an alpha version of the product out and you’re looking for a cofounder to work with, I recommend going to some hackathons or networking events to discover others who share the same interest/passion as you do.
Woodside Community Action Grant (up to $1,500)
This challenge is designed to fund and support projects that are focused on improving the community’s well-being. The grant is not limited only to startups. In fact, it is encouraged for any project that helps improve the quality of any community to apply.
eSeed Challenge (up to $6,000)
eSeed is a little different from most of these funds listed here. It runs as a 3 phase program from challenge to accelerator, and only 12 founders will be selected to join the Prescott Fellows with all expenses paid. At each stage, there will be different requirements, and teams who successfully proceed to the next phase will be given some funding to progress.
Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship (up to $5,000)
This is a very unique grant that focuses on creativity and innovations of contestants in arts. It has to be an art based venture to be eligible for the competiton. Despite having no clear restrictions on group dynamics, there are preferences given to multidisciplinary teams. Not only will teams be given funding, but they will also be admitted into the Arts Venture Incubator that has helped at least three dozen student teams in developing their enterprising ideas.
Middle / Iteration stage
This is the stage where you already have a proven idea along with a simple demo and some testimonials that could show what your product/service is about. It is not specified but, if you are a B2C startup, you are recommended to have at least acquired some paying customers, be it from a crowdfunding campaign or making an actual sale. As for B2B startups, you should already be in talks with some of the potential customers, and an endorsement letter or a form of interest from them would boost your chance greatly.
Changemaker Innovation Challenge (up to $10,000)
This challenge is looking for innovative solution and ideas that can make differences in both local and global communities. There are hardly any restrictions to the kind of solutions or ideas that you can submit. It is important to note that a team can receive a total of $10,000 over multiple attempts, so if you don’t win the grand prize in your first attempt you can always try again next year to cap out your winnings.
Edson Student Initiative (up to $20,000)
This is probably one of the longest standing initiatives at ASU. Not only will you be given funding, but also working spaces and mentorship. Traditionally, they accept 20 teams per intake (semester/year). According to their website, the participating teams have “raised over 2 million dollars, filed over 30 patents and hired over 150 employees” in just the past 3 years.
The most recent success stories is none other than NeoLight to which their CEO Vivek Kopparthi was recently named as one of the 30 under 30 by Forbes.
Pakis Social Challenge (up to $27,500)
As its name suggest, this challenge focuses on social entrepreneurs solving community problems. For this challenge, you will receive the initial $7,500 after you are listed as one of the 3 finalist. After that, there will be a live pitch event where anyone can come and watch the three teams pitch to the panel as they decide who should receive the $20,000 grand prize. Winners will also be sponsored to join one of the SEEDSPOT programs!
Sun Devil Igniter Challenge (up to $55,000)
Igniter Challenge seeks for “ASU students who see the reward in risk and possess the drive to create change through a disruptive, innovative idea”. The 5 finalists will each get $5,000. Before the live pitch event, the list will be cut down to 3. These 3 teams will then be pitching to the board of Igniter Challenge on the Spark Tank Live Pitch Event. The event is open to the public so anyone can come and watch as the board decides which team deserves the $50,000 seed investment.
Late / Prelaunch stage
When I say late stage, I mean that you are “almost” market ready. You needed a little more boost to push you further before you “launch”. By now, you should have already attempted a soft-launch/beta version just to see how people receive your product and/or services.
New Venture Challenge (up to $100,000)
Unlike your typical Startup Competition where you are mostly evaluated by your pitch, New Venture Challenge is a B-session class where teams, if accepted, will enroll in a 2 month long class where they will be given homework and feedback as to how and what they should focus on improving as a startup. At the end of the semester, the top 5 teams will be invited to the final pitch where many investors will decide which team gets which prizes. Just the class itself is a great experience and definitely provided a lot of growth personally for my team, while the prizes are great additions and resources (like legal advice, accounting services, etc.)
Entrepreneur Fund ($100,000 or more*)
Entrepreneur Fund focuses on (M.S. or Ph.D) student / recent graduate startups that aims to either create a brand new product or revive a dying business. As for the product, it has to be a tangible product instead of just a software solution or any middleman business. Along with the funding, the team will also be assigned a mentor “with a Ph.D. and 40 years of practical business experience”.
There are no specific deadlines or duration for the application as it is rolling all year. The documents required however is pretty in-depth with 6 pages long of report including your resume and business plan.
ASU Innovation Open ($100,000)
This is the only competition in this category that does not require at least one founder to be a Master’s or Ph.D student/graduate of ASU. Of the many (and when I say many, I mean hundreds) ventures available at ASU, there will only be 1 team each year that will win the grand prize of $100,000. Each team will need to go through several rounds of screening and eliminations which include a video pitch, Q + A teleconference, VIP pitching and eventually the ASU Innovation Demo Day. All 5 finalists will also be present on the Demo Day with all their expenses covered by the ASU Open — Zero Mass Water Awards.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to “know-your-limit” when it comes to applying to these startup competitions. You don’t want to be stuck in this short-term “feels good” vicious cycle of constantly going for one competition after another. Many first-time founders find themselves stuck from competition to competition instead of actually meeting their potential customer and developing their product.
Evaluate each opportunity accordingly and look for the specific ones that would not only be beneficial for the startup financially but also in other ways in terms of resources, mentorship etc. Please keep in mind that most of these competitions require ASU students to hold at least 50% or more equity of the venture to be eligible. Also, none of these categories are fixed, so if you ever find yourself qualified for the competition despite not being in the specific stage I mentioned, there is no harm in applying!
If you don’t find any here that fit the description of what you are looking for, you can always check out this page for more updated information and links for each and every funding opportunity made available to ASU students.
I’m BinHong, co-founder of Humanity X. Along the way with the Humanity X team, we’ve won Changemaker Challenge 2014, one of the finalist for Pakis Social Challenge 2015/2016, New Venture Challenge 2016 and is currently part of the Edson Student Initiative.
Personally, I was also one of the judges for Woodside Community Challenge for the past year.