Sponsored by Eric Aroesty, C’92

Compete for a slice of more than $135,000 in cash and in-kind awards
to help launch your venture!

The Startup Challenge, sponsored by Eric Aroesty, C’92, is a competition for Penn student-founded new ventures, culminating in the Startup Showcase, Venture Lab’s flagship event, where the very best Penn student entrepreneurs pitch to a live audience and alumni judges to show
their startups are ready to become the next big thing!

Questions? Email Venture Lab.


What is the difference between the Startup Challenge and the Startup Showcase?

  • The Startup Challenge culminates in the Startup Showcase, Venture Lab’s flagship event, which brings together successful entrepreneurial alumni with Penn student entrepreneurs, to showcase the best ventures from across Penn’s campus. The Startup Showcase includes the Startup Challenge Semifinals and Finals, a Meet & Greet with the Semifinalists, an Alumni Panel, and the Startup Challenge and Showcase Awards Ceremony. The 2020-2021 Startup Challenge Showcase will be held virtually.

Is previous entrepreneurial experience required to enter?

  • No. However, if you do not have previous entrepreneurial experience (or have not yet taken any entrepreneurship classes, such as MGMT 231 or 806), to strengthen your knowledge of business fundamentals we recommend that you take all or part of Wharton’s Entrepreneurship Specialization on Coursera.
  • You can audit an individual class on Coursera without subscribing or starting a free trial. After creating a Coursera account, search for the course you want to audit (ex. “Entrepreneurship 1: Developing the Opportunity”). Select that course, select Enroll, and then select “Audit the course” at the bottom of the enrollment page.

What types of business entities can enter?

  • To be eligible to participate in the Startup Challenge, a venture must be a new venture/new business, started during a team member’s enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania. Ventures launched before a team member enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania are not eligible.
  • 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.
    • 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. 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.
    • Teams who use a team member to circumvent this criteria will not be eligible to participate.
    • Institutional funding includes any funding from angel investors, VCs, and/or accelerator/incubator programs.
  • A venture does not have to be incorporated to be eligible for entry. However, winners of the Startup Challenge will have the option to have the award paid to the company, and to do so, the company must be incorporated and have an EIN. 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 an individual, depending on the timing related to the end of the University’s fiscal year, which could have varying tax implications, depending on the team leader’s citizenship status.
  • Non-profit ventures are eligible.

Does the Startup Challenge or Startup Showcase require judges to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements?

  • No. 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 Showcase is open to the public, including members of the media/press. It is the responsibility of the team members invited to participate in the Startup Showcase to keep confidential information confidential and to maintain the confidentiality of their own intellectual property.

Is there a minimum or maximum number of team members allowed on a venture’s team?

  • No. You can have as many, or as few, people as you want on your team. Teams of just 1 person are allowed, as long as that person is a currently enrolled, degree-seeking Penn student. Teams are permitted to have non-Penn team members, but all teams must be led by a currently enrolled, degree-seeking Penn student.

Can I participate on more than one team?

  • Yes. You can participate as a member on more than one team. As the Team Lead for a particular venture entering the Startup Challenge, you must also be the Team Lead for any other Venture Lab program/award you choose to enter with that venture (ex. Innovation FundSummer Venture AwardVenture Initiation Program). If you would like to be a team leader for more than one venture, you will have to create a separate Survey Monkey Apply account for each venture.

I am an exchange student/post-doctoral student here for the year. Can I participate in the Startup Challenge?

  • Yes. You can participate on a team in the Startup Challenge, but not as a Team Lead. Your team must be led by a currently enrolled degree-candidate student of the University of Pennsylvania (graduate or undergraduate) at the time of the first round deadline. See the Rules & Eligibility for full details about the requirements for participation.

What criteria will the judges use to evaluate my submission?

  • The judges will be asked to consider 6 category areas: Idea, Product/Service, Preparation for Launch, Execution Plan, Traction, and Team. You can see the full judging criteria here.
  • Before being sent to the judges, all applications will be screened by Venture Lab faculty and staff. Applications that are incomplete, do not adequately provide the required information, or are too early to answer the application questions will not be sent to the judges for review. The decision of Venture Lab is final. You can see the required application materials here.

Listen to Karl Ulrich, Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Wharton School, interview the 2021 Startup Challenge semifinalists on Launch Pad:

2021 Startup Challenge Special (feat. Nouri, Xoma, Fulton, 3CorBio, and Altrui Rx)

Glimpse the excitement of the Startup Showcase!

2021-22 Startup Challenge Sponsors

Grand Prize Sponsors

Ellen H. and Richard E. Perlman, W’68

Sponsor of the Venture Lab Startup Challenge

Eric Aroesty, C’92

In-Kind Sponsors

Blank Rome LLP
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