Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund exists to fund creative and meaningfully innovative ventures from the Penn student community. Alberto Vitale WG’59, who endowed the Innovation Fund, hopes that it will be “a catalyst to stimulate innovation at the School and to surface the brainpower of its students.” All funding decisions are made by our Investment Team.

Applications for the next cycle of the Innovation Fund will open on December 14 and the deadline will be January 24, 11:59 pm ET. Additional deadlines for the 2020-2021 academic year can be found under the Selection Process, Criteria, and Deadlines section below.

APPLY HERE (click on Programs in top-right corner; applications open on December 14)

Questions? Contact Jill Anick, Senior Associate Director, Venture Lab

Please note that the Innovation Fund is open only to currently enrolled students pursuing a degree-granting program (Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate) at the University of Pennsylvania.

There are 3 different award levels based upon your venture development stage:

  • Validation: $250
  • Implementation: $1000
  • Launch: $5000 (must receive an Implementation award before applying)

Note that you can apply for one type of award (Validation or Implementation or Launch, if eligible) per application cycle. You should choose the award level that best suits your venture development stage.

APPLY HERE (click on Programs in top-right corner)

Eligibility & Rules

  • All applicants for the fund must be a Founding member of the team. The team leader must be a founder, and a currently enrolled student in a degree-pursuing program at Penn. Students on a Leave of Absence are not eligible to be a team leader.
  • Both Nonprofits and For Profits are eligible.
  • The venture must be a new and independent venture. Ventures that were launched before a team member enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania are not eligible.
  • All submitted materials must be the original work of the participating team. By submitting an application, a team and each of its individual members warrants that they do not infringe on any proprietary or other right of others.
  • Venture Lab uses Survey Monkey as the application platform for all programs and awards. By applying to any of the programs or awards offered by Venture Lab, applicants agree to submit and/or upload data to the Survey Monkey platform, and acknowledge acceptance of the Survey Monkey terms and conditions.
  • Declined applicants are welcome to reapply at any time, as long as the team meets all the eligibility requirements (ex. haven’t graduated)
  • International students are eligible. If they are awarded, additional financial paperwork will be required.
  • Applications for the Validation Phase Award ($250) and Implementation Phase Award ($1000) have no prerequisite.
  • Applicants are only eligible for the Launch Phase Award ($5000) after receiving the Implementation Phase Award.
  • Once a team receives an award, they are no longer eligible to apply for a ‘lesser’ award for that venture (ex. Implementation Award winners cannot apply for a Validation Award). Once a team receives a Launch Award, they are no longer eligible for additional Innovation Fund funding.
  • Innovation Fund awards are intended for early stage ventures. Businesses that have received more than $150k in institutional funding are not eligible, unless the funding was received while the Team Leader/team members were concurrently active students at the University of Pennsylvania.
    • Validation: Venture should be pre-revenue
    • Implementation: Venture can be pre-revenue or have minimal revenue from a paid pilot or beta testers
    • Launch: Venture can be revenue-generating
  • Appropriate use of funds: Funds provided as direct grants to student-led projects can be used to build, test, and develop prototypes, purchase technical and legal resources, engage software developers or engineers, or for other expenses related to developing the idea or invention. The use of funds should clearly make an impact on venture development. Examples of inappropriate use of funds include reimbursing founders’ personal expenses, paying for a resource students could access free of charge, reimbursing for prior travel expenses, etc. The Investment Team wants to see that the Innovation Fund funding is making a meaningful impact on venture development.
  • Decisions made by the Innovation Fund Investment Team are final. The Investment Team reserves the right to disqualify any participant, team and/or submission for good cause, including the following reasons:
    • violation of the University’s Code of Student Conduct, Code of Academic Integrity or other policy
    • violation of any local, state or federal law
    • the team or submission has not complied with applicable rules
    • the application does not present sufficient content or material appropriate to merit review

Selection Process, Criteria & Deadlines

  • Applications are reviewed by the Innovation Fund Investment Team, which is made up of current Penn students.
  • Applications are reviewed on a monthly basis from October to April. The are five opportunities to apply each academic year.
  • Evaluation criteria include:
    • Originality of innovation
      • The Innovation Fund Investment Team is most interested in truly innovative ideas, not variations on old technology.
    • Scalability/impact
      • Innovation Fund awards are for venture ideas with the potential to scale, not SMBs/SMEs/small businesses.
    • Viability/practicality
    • Usefulness
    • The development process
    • The founding team
    • Use of funds & impact of Innovation Fund funding
  • A venture can meet all of the criteria and receive positive feedback and still not receive an award, as there is a finite amount of funding to distribute each month.
  • Shortlisted applicants for the Launch Award may be invited to pitch to the Investment Team. Launch Award applicants are expected to be available to attend the meeting date listed below for their particular application cycle. Teams will be notified if they are invited to pitch approximately 1 week before the meeting date.

 

2020-2021 Important Dates

Application Deadline
Notification Date (Validation & Implementation applicants)
Launch Award Shortlist Meeting Date Notification Date (Launch applicants)
Tuesday, October 13 Friday, October 30 Thursday, November 5 Friday, November 6
Tuesday, November 10 Friday, December 4 Thursday, December 10 Friday, December 11
Sunday, January 24 Friday, February 12 Thursday, February 18 Friday, February 19
Tuesday, February 23 Friday, March 19 Thursday, March 25 Friday, March 26
Sunday, April 4 Friday, April 21 Thursday, April 29 Saturday, May 1

Application

All Phases: Innovation Fund Common App

Application Form

  • Name of venture
  • Short description (50-100 words)
  • Describe the problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Describe your solution.
  • What is innovative about this solution?
  • How do you think it can scale?
  • Tell us about the market opportunity.
  • Who are the other players in this market?
  • How does your value proposition differ from the other players?
  • Why are you the right founder(s)?
  • Do you need anyone else to join the team? What is your plan for bringing this person on board?
  • Why is now the right time to build this venture?

Validation Phase Award ($250)

The Innovation Fund Validation Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs in the ideation or validation phase of venture development.  Selected recipients receive an award of $250.  These funds are intended for validating your idea. If you are not a selected recipient, you can reapply for the award, as long as the team and venture meet the criteria. A venture can only receive this award once.

Application Requirements:

  • 1-2 minute pitch video
  • Validation Phase Application Form
    • Describe the 1st customer segment you plan to target.
    • What does this target customer currently use and why are they dissatisfied?
    • Validation Plan: List your top 3 assumptions and detail your validation plan for each.
    • What is your plan for product development?
    • If you receive an award, how do you plan to use these funds? Provide specific examples.
    • How will these funds directly support your validation plan efforts?
    • Why is this the best use of funds to validate your idea?
  • Supplemental documents (optional) (ex. pitch deck, 1-page executive summary)
  • For returning applicants –
    • Describe the progress you have made since your last application?
    • Have you made any changes to your team? If yes, please describe.
    • How have you addressed the feedback from the Innovation Fund Investment Team?

Implementation Phase Award ($1000)

The Innovation Fund Implementation Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs who have a validated idea to develop into a venture.  Selected recipients receive an award of $1000.  These funds are intended for building your venture. If you are not a selected recipient, you can reapply for the award, as long as the team and venture meet the criteria. A venture can only receive this award once.

Application Requirements:

  • 1-2 minute pitch video
  • Implementation Phase Application Form
    • If you have an online demo, provide the URL.
    • What are your key assumptions and how did you validate them? Provide data (examples include survey results, mailing list signups, pre-orders, proof of concept test, other data that indicates the need for your product/service and a customer’s willingness to pay).
    • Describe the customer segment you are targeting first.
    • What does this target customer currently use and why are they dissatisfied?
    • How have you engaged with potential customers or users?
    • Describe a user’s experience with your product/service.
    • What data do you have to indicate product-market fit?
    • What is the venture’s stage of product development?
    • Describe your plan for pilot or beta testing your product/service?
    • How will you acquire your first customer(s)/user(s)? Provide a specific plan.
    • If you receive an award, how do you plan to use these funds? Provide specific examples.
    • How will these funds directly support your venture development efforts?
    • Why is that the best use of funds to help further venture development?
    • Nonprofits –
      • How will you define and measure your impact?
  • Pitch Deck (required)
  • Supplemental documents (optional) (ex. survey data, wireframes, 1-page executive summary, product sketches/mock-ups)
  • For returning applicants –
    • Describe the progress you have made since your last application?
    • Have you made any changes to your team? If yes, please describe.
    • How have you addressed the feedback from the Innovation Fund Investment Team?
    • If you received a Validation Award for this venture, how did you use the funding?

Launch Phase Award ($5000)

The Innovation Fund Launch Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs who have a venture that has launched or is ready to launch.  Selected recipients receive an award of $5000 and only one venture per application cycle will be funded.  These funds are intended for launching your venture. If you are not a selected recipient, you can reapply for the award, as long as the team and venture meet the criteria. A venture can only receive this award once. Once you receive this award, you are not eligible to apply for additional Innovation Fund funding with the same venture. Note that you must have received the Implementation Award to apply for the Launch Award.

Application Requirements:

  • 1-2 minute pitch video
  • Launch Phase Application Form
    • If you have an online demo, provide the URL.
    • Describe the user experience for your product/service.
    • What is the venture’s stage of product development?
    • What did you learn from any pilots or beta testing?
    • What data do you have to demonstrate product-market fit?
    • What is the total addressable market? What percentage of that market do you think you can capture?
    • Describe your ideal customer segment.
    • Who are the other players in this market who keep you up at night? Why?
    • Describe other possible markets or customer segments.
    • Tell us about your business model.
    • How did you validate your pricing model?
    • How did you acquire your first customer(s)/user(s)?
    • How will you acquire your next customers? Describe your sales and marketing plan.
    • Describe potential ancillary revenue streams.
    • How do you plan to scale the venture long term?
    • Why is now the right time to launch?
    • If you’ve already launched, what did you learn?
    • Describe your measurable traction and accomplishments.
    • What are your planned milestones over the next 6-12 months?
    • If you receive an award, how do you plan to use these funds?
    • Why is that the best use of funds to prepare your venture for launch (or growth, if you’ve already officially launched)?
    • Nonprofits –
      • How will you define and measure your impact?
      • Describe your plan to scale the venture’s impact.
      • Do you have the right partnerships and engagement with the right organizations to execute? Explain.
      • What is your plan for financial sustainability?
  • Venture Updates
    • What has changed since your last application? (either after winning the Implementation Award or after a previous Launch Award application)
    • Have you made any changes to your team since your last application? If yes, please describe.
    • How did you use the funding from the Implementation Award?
    • How have you addressed the feedback from the Innovation Fund Investment Team?
    • If you are in your final year at Penn, what are your plans for the year following graduation? Otherwise, what are your plans for the summer?
  • Pitch Deck (required)
  • Executive Summary (required)
  • Financial Projections (required)
  • Supplemental documents (optional)
  • Some applicants will be selected to pitch to the Investment Team committee. Applicants must be available to present in person (virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic) at an Investment Team meeting.

Which phase should I apply to?

Validation Phase Award ($250)

The Innovation Fund Validation Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs in the ideation or validation phase of venture development.  Apply to the Validation Phase when:

  • This is a new idea that you started working on recently.
  • You have a clear plan to validate your idea and test your assumptions
  • You need funding to run a large scale survey
  • You need funding to build a proof of concept

Implementation Phase Award ($1000)

The Innovation Fund Implementation Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs who have a validated idea to develop into a venture.  Apply to the Implementation Phase Award when:

  • You have a validated idea
    • You completed a survey with a large sample size where potential customers (in your target market) indicated their interest
    • You have a list of potential customers who have signed up for a mailing list
    • You have data that demonstrates the need for your product or service
    • You have pre-orders
    • You’ve interviewed a significant number of people from your target market
    • You’ve built and tested a proof of concept
    • You’ve tested and proven a customer’s willingness to pay
    • You’ve discovered a way to make your product/service defensible
    • You’ve mitigated for any major hurdles toward adoption of your product/service
  • You need funding to build your product after validating your idea
  • You need funding to run a pilot

Launch Phase Award ($5000)

The Innovation Fund Launch Phase Award is designed to support student entrepreneurs who have a venture that has launched or is ready to launch.

  • You have already received an Implementation Phase Award.
  • You are generating revenue or have an immediate path to generate revenue (will vary by industry)
  • You have launched your venture or have an immediate path to launch
  • You’ve built and activated your sales pipeline
  • You are actively raising a round of seed funding
  • You have a viable monetization strategy

Additional Info

  • Teams are asked to report any news such as name changes, funds raised, acquisitions, exits, and shutting down.
  • Though not required, we hope you keep in touch with us and consider giving back to the fund to support future generations of Penn entrepreneurs.

Payment Process

Award funds are distributed via Direct Deposit.

Process

Owner

Approximate Time

Submit Paperwork via Fluid Review YOU ASAP (and no later than 1 month from Award Letter Date)
Receive Paperwork & Input your information into vendor payment system Payment Coordinator 5 to 7 business days
Sends email asking you to register as Supplier Penn Accounts Payable 5 to 7 business days
Complete vendor registration (uploading your tax documents and direct deposit information) YOU ASAP (and no less than 1 business day)
Request sent to AP to release funds Payment Coordinator 5 – 7 business days
Funds are released Penn Accounts Payable 10 – 15 business days

Please Note: Incomplete/Incorrect Paperwork and peak business operations can cause further delays in this process.

Why I {heart} The Innovation Fund

by Ashwin Baweja, ENG’15/GEN’15/W’15 Founder of HashFav

“Luckily, the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund is a pillar of support for early entrepreneurs and helped me and my startup when we needed it most.”

ADDITIONAL FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

The University of Pennsylvania contains a variety of funding sources for student startups. Click the link below to view a list of awards, prizes, competitions, and funding resources complied by Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship.

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