Rules & Eligibility

The following rules are binding throughout the entire duration of the Startup Challenge and its associated competitions. By participating in the Startup Challenge, and its associated competitions, all team members, regardless of Penn affiliation, accept these rules and regulations and agree to abide by them. Venture Lab reserves the right to disqualify any team and/or team member who violates these rules or University policy.

Venture Lab reserves the right to change the rules & eligibility at any time and the right to disqualify any participant, team, and/or submission for good cause. For more information, refer to the 'Rules & Eligibility' page.


Updated January 2024
Eligibility Requirements
Lead Applicant

  • The Lead Applicant must be a current student enrolled in a degree-granting program at the University of Pennsylvania, who holds a C-Suite position within the venture and has a majority (or plurality equal to other founders – e.g., each of two founders holds 50% or each of 3 holds 33 & 1/3%) financial and decision-making stake in the applying venture at the time of the first round deadline. The Lead Applicant must have played a significant role in conceiving the venture, hold a key management role in the venture, be actively involved in the venture, and may be required to be the primary presenter for the pitch events related to the Startup Challenge and associated competitions. Students on a leave of absence from Penn are not permitted to be a Lead Applicant, although they are permitted to be a Team Member. The Lead Applicant must be able to be physically present (if relevant) for all events related to the Startup Challenge and associated competitions, including but not limited to the Semifinals and Finals pitch rounds.

Team Members

  • Teams are permitted to have members who are not students at the University of Pennsylvania, but the Lead Applicant must actively lead the team and drive the venture development. Non-members of the University community may not use University of Pennsylvania students primarily as a vehicle to participate in the Venture Lab Startup Challenge and its associated competitions. Venture Lab staff may disqualify a team if it determines in its sole judgment that a Penn student is being used as a front by others. All team members who are students at the University of Pennsylvania must register with the Venture Initiation Program (VIP-C). Students can join VIP-C within the Tangen Hall Membership Form via the link here. If students have already applied for membership, the guide to editing the application to submit for inclusion in VIP-C can be found here.

  • There is no maximum or minimum number of people on each team. Individual students may enter, and an individual may participate on more than one team.


  • The Startup Challenge accepts applications from new ventures that have been started during the Lead Applicant’s enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania. Ventures launched before the Lead Applicant was enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania are not eligible. Applicants must submit all requested application materials by the deadline to be considered. A venture does not have to be incorporated to be eligible for entry. Additionally, ventures that have received more than $150k in institutional funding are not eligible, unless the funding was received while all University of Pennsylvania team members were concurrently students enrolled in a degree-granting program at Penn. Institutional funding includes any funding from angel investors, VCs, and/or accelerator/incubator programs.  Teams who use a team member to circumvent this criteria will not be eligible to participate.

    • For example, a student who takes a leave of absence after junior year, raises over $150K in institutional funding while on leave, and then returns for senior year, is not eligible to enter that venture in the Startup Challenge. By contrast, a student who raises over $150K in funding over the summer between the 1st and 2nd year of the MBA program is eligible to enter that venture in the Startup Challenge.

Original Work

  • All submitted materials must be the original work of the participating team.
  • By submitting an entry, a team and each of its individual members warrants that the entry does not infringe any proprietary or other right of others.

Use of Survey Monkey Apply
Venture Lab uses SurveyMonkey Apply 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 SurveyMonkey Apply and acknowledge acceptance of SurveyMonkey Apply terms and conditions (
Submissions to the Startup Challenge will be shared with Venture Lab staff, and with the judges assigned to review the submissions. Submissions and other data collected as part of the Startup Challenge also may be shared with faculty and researchers for the purpose of academic research and/or improvement of the Startup Challenge and Venture Lab’s programming. Results from research of this type may be published in the aggregate, and without disclosing personally identifiable information about entrants.

At times, actual and prospective participants in the Startup Challenge ask that confidentiality agreements/NDAs be secured from mentors, organizers and/or judges. While the organizers of the Startup Challenge appreciate the concerns behind these requests, as a matter of convention and practicality, confidentiality agreements/NDAs are not signed as part of the Startup Challenge. Judges and mentors are investors, entrepreneurs, business professionals, service providers and other friends of the Wharton School & University of Pennsylvania. They are accustomed to handling confidential information and participate so as to support the education of the student participants. However, the final decision about participating in the Startup Challenge and about what information will be shared is the responsibility of the team.

Please note that the Startup Challenge and its associated competitions, the Semifinals and Finals, are open to the public, including members of the media/press. It is the responsibility of the participants to keep confidential information confidential and to maintain the confidentiality of their own intellectual property and trade secrets.

If invited to participate in the Startup Challenge, participants authorize the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania to use their names, interviews and likenesses in all media, including but not limited to video, print and electronic media, in such manner as Penn may deem advisable for the purpose of publicizing the work of Penn and in materials controlled by Penn. Participants acknowledge that they are not entitled to reimbursement for the use of their name, photograph or participation in any and all media developed about and by Penn. (Please note that MBA students have already agreed to this as a condition of their enrollment at Wharton.)
The Startup Challenge has three rounds – First Round, Semifinals and Finals. Prior to and during each round, participants are not permitted to contact the judges with the purpose of influencing the judging process. Any such action will result in the disqualification of the participant and his/her team from the Startup Challenge.

Participants are permitted to contact judges once the judging for the round in which they are participating has closed, if the judge has agreed to share his/her contact information. Judges and participants who have a prior relationship are expected to recuse themselves from that particular judge-participant match-up. If a team does not want actual or potential individuals or members of a particular organization to judge their submission because of a conflict of interest (e.g., an investor from a VC firm that invested in a competitor), the team may request recusal. The Startup Challenge organizers will make a determination on such requests.
Disqualification of Entry or Participant
Venture Lab reserves the right to disqualify any participant, team and/or submission for good cause,including but not limited to 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
  • Content that is pornographic in nature
  • The venture was previously awarded a Grand Prize in the Wharton Business Plan Competition or PWSC
  • In Venture Lab’s estimation, the submission does not present sufficient content or material appropriate to merit sending to judges for evaluation and feedback
  • The team or submission has not complied with applicable rules
  • The team or submission does not meet the eligibility requirements of the Startup Challenge

Other Agreements & Relationships
The organizers of the Startup Challenge, Venture Lab, The Wharton School, and the University of Pennsylvania take no responsibility for agreements made or relationships that develop between any of the competition participants, judges, mentors, sponsors or other third-parties. This includes the decision regarding how to distribute any cash or in-kind awards among team members. Venture Lab will release the award to the Lead Applicant individual or entity designated by the Team Leader and approved by the team members.

University Claims on Student-Developed Property
Students at the University of Pennsylvania who develop new technologies and/or new ventures while enrolled at the University can generally be assured that the University does not have a claim on the intellectual property of the student’s technology or venture unless one of the following applies:

  • The student is employed by the University and the technology or invention is the result of or related to his or her employment;
  • The student has worked under a research grant or other research sponsorship;
  • The invention is made jointly with a faculty member, Penn employee, or other person required to assign their rights to Penn;
  • The student is commercializing a technology or discovery that was made by a faculty member or other University researcher or employee;
  • The student has engaged services of a University department and has agreed otherwise as a condition of receiving such services.

In general, except as noted above, students in degree-granting programs are encouraged to put their efforts into seeking the advice and facilitation of faculty members and other resources at the University with the assurance that such action in itself will not result in an intellectual property claim on their work by the University. Students with questions about IP and University Claims on Student-Developed Property are encouraged to contact the Penn Center for Innovation with questions about Penn technology and intellectual property. If a team is building a venture based on technology/IP from Penn or another academic institution, that team must have negotiated the rights to use/license the IP before the application deadline. The deadline for Semifinals submissions is early April.

Applicants are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the University’s Patent and Tangible Research Property Policies and Procedures.
Payment of Awards
Lead Applicants will have the option to have the award paid to themselves or the venture. If the applicant decides to have an award paid to a venture, the company must be incorporated and have an EIN. If the Lead Applicant is an international student (non-US Citizen or Permanent Resident), and decides to have an award paid themselves, then the University will automatically withhold 30% of the award as tax. Please note that it can take several weeks to several months to incorporate and receive an EIN, so it is recommended that you begin the process well in advance. Failure to do so may result in requiring the award to be paid to the Lead Applicant. Failure to deposit an award check before the expiration date may result in forfeiture of the award.