University of Michigan Competitions Promise Cash for Startups

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After conceiving the idea for their safety app, the creators of Companion decided they needed to solidify their idea and ensure that they continued working on it throughout the school year. Their solution? The Michigan Business Challenge. They entered the competition seeking validation that their idea was good and with the hope that it would force them to further develop their product. They never expected to win, says co-founder and School of Information senior Jake Wayne. They mostly wanted to be held accountable to work on and perfect their idea–to build their business plan, revenue model, and learn to pitch. At the end of the competition, however, the Companion team won, and the prize money they were awarded helped launch their business. They’ve since gone on to U-M’s Desai Accelerator program and have gained international attention for their app.

“It’s not about winning or losing, though,” said Jake Wayne. “Even if you don’t win, [MBC] gives you a drive to complete your idea, receive feedback and tips from the judges, and create your business. It’s really crucial, especially if you’re a student and in school, to allow a competition like this to force you to address your idea. That way you don’t put off your start-up.”

After winning, the team kept in contact with the connections they’d made throughout the competition. They received a lot of helpful advice that took their idea to the next level.

The Michigan Business Challenge is just one of ten entrepreneurship competitions at the university promising real, serious cash and experience for student startups, some focus on social innovation and others on business plans. Last year, student ventures had the opportunity to take home nearly $350,000 from competitions across campus, and that number keeps growing. Like Companion, countless other student startups, products, and apps have been launched with the aid of entrepreneurial competitions at the University of Michigan, presented by schools and colleges as well as student organizations.

Knowing that some of the best ideas and innovations come from multidisciplinary teams, nearly all of the competitions are open to all students, giving students the added experience of working with others with different perspectives and talents.

Here’s a look at a few.

CFE’s The Startup

The Startup is The CFE’s cornerstone competition for undergraduate and graduate students looking to turn a startup idea into a real company. It’s a winner-take-all opportunity for ventures to get visibility, direct one-on-one mentorship with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, funding, and bragging rights to be called the next, best startup at Michigan. Throughout the competition, students are awarded a total of $35,000 in funding to work towards challenges that move their companies closer to market.

1000 Pitches

An annual entrepreneurial competition, 1000 Pitches is the largest student pitch competition in the nation. Hosted by MPowered, 1000 Pitches was created to foster a drive toward innovation in the student populace. It was started at the University of Michigan in 2007 and has since spread to Virginia Tech, University of Pittsburgh, University of Arizona, University of Southern California, and Pennsylvania State University.

optiMize Social Innovation Challenge

optiMize’s Social Innovation Challenge provides participants with resources, support, and the funding to work on their idea. The challenge is led by a group of students and supported by a group of mentors and sponsors. By giving participating students the chance to participate, the University of Michigan aims to make real-world impact through the ideas presented in the competition.

Michigan Business Challenge

A campus-wide competition, open to all majors, the Michigan Business Challenge is a multi-round business challenge that gives over $85,000 worth in prizes to its participants. Any student who submits an application participates in the first round, while only 16-22 teams make it to the second round. During the semi-final and final rounds, student teams write a marketing and financial overview of their business. In each round contestants have the opportunity to hear feedback from a panel of judges.

Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is an international business competition that highlights Michigan’s entrepreneurial and innovation spirit. Led by the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan (which includes Ann Arbor SPARK, Automation Alley, Macomb-OU INCubator, and TechTown), the Business Leaders for Michigan, the University Research Corridor (Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University) and the New Economy Initiative, this competition seeks to advance and strengthen Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem


Hosted by MPowered, Makeathon is a 36-hour design competition for Michigan students who are passionate about designing and creating a product. Put on by the Stamps School of Art & Design, this weekend of creativity and innovation also includes a Fine Arts Showcase for innovative artists and a Case Competition that gives student teams the opportunity to tackle a real-world problem, create a prototype, and present it to a panel of judges.

Innovation in Action

Hosted by the School of Public Health, Innovation in Action is a competition created to challenge University of Michigan students with real-life problems. The competition, which is in its third year, has recently expanded and added an education track for participants. Innovation in Action is a five-month experience that gives student teams the opportunity to invent and design a product, network with other students and judges, hone their entrepreneurial skills through modules, pitch their ideas, and potentially win funding.

View a full list of entrepreneurial competitions.

Written by Hannah Gordon, Innovate Blue Student Associate.

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