The second year of the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Challenge, a 2.0 version of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, brings together Penn entrepreneurs and alumni investors to help student startups break through.

On April 27, 2018, the Penn entrepreneurship community will gather at Wharton for the second Penn Wharton Startup Showcase, sponsored by Eric Aroesty, C’92. This celebration of entrepreneurship includes the finals of Penn Wharton Startup Challenge, where eight Finalists pitch live in front of an audience and a panel of entrepreneurial judges for a total of $135,000 in prizes, plus a showcase of student companies and more entrepreneurial fun.

This year marks Wharton’s 20th of hosting a startup competition. After 18 years of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, whose winners included the founders of Cotopaxi, FundersClub, and PetPlan, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship updated the competition to keep it relevant to today’s startup world.

Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director of Communications for Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship, explains that the competition gives students practical experience.

“The application for the Startup Challenge looks a lot like what companies would submit to an outside accelerator or to investor. It’s a very real world experience.”

How It Works

The Startup Challenge is open to all ventures with at least one Penn student as the designated team leader. Teams can also have members who are not Penn students..

Only startups that have received $150,000 or less in funding prior to beginning their program at Penn are eligible. The competition also attracts winners of other innovation competitions at Penn.

The Startup Challenge is organized into three rounds.

1. The Participants

In January, hopeful competitors finish their applications by recording elevator pitch videos, writing a venture description, and fine-tuning a pitch deck. Nearly 100 ventures submit to this open call for ventures every year.

2. The Semifinals

By late February, the Semifinalists are announced. 25 Semifinalists are chosen by entrepreneurial judges, most of them Penn alumni. Winners of other campus competitions, such as the Y Prize and the President’s Innovation Prize, are invited to compete as Semifinalists if their ventures qualify.

3. The Finals

In April, on the morning of the Startup Showcase, Semifinalists pitch in closed door sessions, and the eight Finalists are chosen. The Finalists pitch to a live audience and panel of judges, and prizes are awarded at the end of the day.

The Main Event

The Startup Showcase is a day-long festival for the entire Penn entrepreneurial community.

  • Semifinals: The day starts with all Semifinalist teams pitching their ventures to panels of entrepreneurs and investors—most of them alumni—in closed-room sessions.
  • Demos and more in the Forum: All afternoon, Semifinalists and other student entrepreneurs demo their ventures in the Forum. All attendees can vote for the Crowd Favorite Award. Use your networking skills to connect with student entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial alumni from every industry. Plus, keep an eye out for the entrepreneurship-themed photo booth.
  • Elevator pitches in a real elevator: Student entrepreneurs can sign up to give their elevator pitches to student investors from Rough Draft Ventures, Dorm Room Fund, or the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund. These pitches will be streamed live on the big screen in the Forum. If you want to pitch, subscribe to the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship newsletter to receive an alert when sign-ups open.
  • Finals: Finalists will be announced at 1 p.m., and then they pitch to a live audience and answer tough questions from judges in G06, Huntsman Hall’s main auditorium. At 4 p.m., the Finalists give short, live pitches on the steps of the forum. If you can’t make it to the Forum, you can watch them via Facebook Live. Audiences in the Forum and those watching online can vote for the Michelson People’s Choice Award.

What are the Prizes?

Student entrepreneurs will win a total of over $135,000 in cash and prizes to help them launch their ventures. The first place team wins the Perlman Grand Prize: $30,000 cash, plus $10,000 in legal services and $5,000 in accounting/strategy services. Other prizes include the Gloeckner Award for Best Undergraduate Team, the Social Impact Prize, and the Innovation Award. Visit our website for a more comprehensive breakdown of the prizes.

Elis Pill, C’19

Posted: April 18, 2018

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