Startup competitions from top universities

Steven Loeb · March 15, 2019 · Short URL:

They include NYU, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia, USC and UCLA

If you're a startup seeking opportunities to get funded, educated or connected, startup competitions are a great resource.

Vator has been holding its own competitions, using VatorX, to find and filter for the best startups. We've had some very successful and notable winners in the past that have gone on to raise big funding rounds including Thumbtack, DogVacay, Pokitdok, Grovo, Udemy and Apartment List, to name a few.

Anyone can list their program as VatorX is one of the most comprehensive listing guides to startup competitions, challenges, accelerators and programs. Click here to list your program!

As part of our weekly series, we'll look at top competitions with big cash prizes, as well as competitions that have teed up the most promising startups, to finding popular startup competitions you need to know about. 

Here are some of the startup competitions from some of the top universities:



Description: "The i3  program cultivates, coaches and showcases Harvard’s rapidly growing group of student entrepreneurs. Hundreds of students participate and at last count came from 44 different concentrations and graduate disciplines, representing all 12 houses, 4 undergraduate class years and graduate degree-candidates from 4 schools.

Prize: Now in its 12th year, i3 has provided over $650,000 in grants, incubator space and professional services to students pursuing commercial, social and public startups on campus, online and internationally. Students compete for grants, awards, prizes and incubator space to help them realize their innovative visions."

Previous winners: prettyChill, PathVision, Team Trill, Heard App


Startup Yale

Description: "Startup Yale brings together Yale’s biggest entrepreneurship awards in three days packed with pitches, prizes, and world-changing ideas."


This $25,000 cash prize is awarded by InnovateHealth Yale to the best student-led venture focused on social innovation in health or education.

The Sabin Prize, managed by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, awards a $25,000 cash prize to students and/or faculty with the best ideas for products, services, projects, or programs that advance a more sustainable way of life.

This $25,000 cash prize is awarded by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale to the best student-led venture with a tech or tech-enabled service startup.

This $15,000 cash prize is awarded by the Yale Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking to the best student-led venture focused on developing an innovative hardware solution to a medical challenge.

Previous winners: Concha Aquaponic Solutions, Snackpass, Penta Innovations, Raise Green


Description: "Open to all current Cornell Undergraduate Students. Eight finalists will be determined by a group of experienced entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, non-profit, and business professionals. 25 semi-finalists will also receive consultations with a mentor/coach about their idea and ways to improve their submission."


  • 1st Place Business Category- $3000
  • 2nd Place Business Category- $1000
  • 3rd Place Business Category- $500

Previous winners: Combplex, Soundskrit, Crater, Matador Finance


Description: The $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge, hosted annually by the W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs, is one of the largest and most innovative accelerator programs and startup competitions in the world. It is an 8-month program involving more than 750 students, alumni, faculty and researchers from 16 schools across NYU’s global campuses"

Prize: A total of $300,000 in cash prizes and pro bono startup services.

Previous winners: Sunthetics, FairFrame, Food Period, Grocer8, Geopipe, RecoverLink



Description: "Do you have a great idea and want to launch? Are you a current USC student, faculty or staff or recent graduate? Then you should participate in the New Venture Seed Competition."

Prize: $85,000 in prize money

Previous winners: Apeiron, Adoptomize, Plotfix, Lighthaus, A.O.I, Bridget 

 Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship

Description: "The $50k Brown Venture Prize is designed to empower the most advanced entrepreneurial ventures by Brown students. It supports teams who have identified a significant opportunity, and whose ventures have the potential to create “impact at scale”. The prize is agnostic with respect to what sectors or industries ventures are working in, or even whether they are commercial, social, or have blended approaches. The essential thing is that teams have identified an opportunity or challenge and are thinking big about how to solve it. The Brown Venture Prize is intended to help them accelerate and scale those solutions. Winners will receive prize money, critical mentorship, and access to leaders in the Brown entrepreneurial community and beyond."


  • 1st Prize: $25,000
  • 2nd Prize: $15,000
  • 3rd Prize: $10,000

Previous winners: Formally, goTeff, EmboNet

UCLA Anderson

Description: "Now in its 37th year, the Knapp Venture Competition has evolved into one of the premier academic business plan competitions in Southern California. It encourages UCLA Anderson students to showcase their talents and learn from insights of successful entrepreneurs and business executives. The Knapp Competition has given more than 1,800 UCLA Anderson students a unique venture creation experience that has been instrumental in launching numerous businesses."


  • First Place: $15,000
  • Second Place: $10,000
  • Third Place: $7,500
  • Fourth Place: $5,000
  • Fifth Place: $2,500
  • Fast Pitch: $1,000

Previous winners: U-Defi, Tutorfly, Mivue, Riders Share, Pluscare, Altitude Beverages


Description: "We’re looking for the very best Penn student entrepreneurs who can show that their startups are ready to become the next big thing in any industry"

Prize: $135,000 in cash and prizes

Previous winners: Twine, Bungalow Insurance, Fever Smart, Soceana

MIT $100K

Description: "One competition - three independent contests - from October through May. Now in its 30th year, the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition has brought together students and researchers from across MIT and Greater Boston to launch their talent, ideas, and technology into leading companies."

Prize: $100,000

Previous winners: Infinite Cooling, Iterative Scopes, Lightmatter, change:WATER Labs

2017-18 Hofstra Digital Remedy Venture Challenge Series

Description: "The #HofDigitalRemedyChallenge is an annual entrepreneurship competition for Hofstra students administered by the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship with total prizes valued at $75,000, made possible through the donation of a Hofstra Board Trustee and CEO of Digital Remedy, Mike Seiman. The competition (formerly the Hofstra-CPXi Venture Tech Challenge), is in its seventh year at Hofstra University."


  • First prize: $12,000 in prize money, plus $30,000 of in-kind services from Digital Remedy
  • Second prize: $6,000 in prize money, plus $15,000 of in-kind services from Digital Remedy
  • Third prize: $3,500 in prize money, plus $5,000 of in-kind services from Digital Remedy

Previous winners: MedAux, Lawdio, CountryBox


Stanford Women In Business

Description: "The $100K Startup Challenge is Stanford's largest entrepreneurship competition, which attracts over 200 companies a year, judged by a talented team of industry experts." 

Prize: $100,000 in total funding

Previous winners: Ravel, Boosted, Biomimedica


Description: "The Columbia Venture Competition (CVC) has four challenges, made possible by Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, Columbia Entrepreneurship, and the School of International and Public Affairs." 

Prize: Each challenge will split $50,000 among the top three winners

Previous winners: Project Playdate, Fly Louie, Bite

Read more from our "Startup Competition Guide" series

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