The Startup Challenge is Venture Lab at The University of Pennsylvania’s flagship event, which brings together successful entrepreneurial alumni and Penn student entrepreneurs to showcase the best student-founded ventures from across Penn’s campus. Teams have a chance to win awards from a pool of more than $150,000 in cash prizes, in-kind support, and additional resources.

The 2024 Startup Challenge Live Final presented by Venture Lab at the University of Pennsylvania took place at Tangen Hall on 4/12/2024.
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Video Companion

Penn's Largest Pitch Competition

Coaching and Mentoring
Teams competing will receive access to expert coaching and mentoring throughout the competition via our Venture Initiation Program, ensuring a nurturing environment for your venture's growth.

Live Final
The very best Penn student entrepreneur teams will compete at our live final, pitching in front of a live audience to demonstrate that their startups are ready to become the next big thing.

Valuable Feedback
Receive invaluable feedback from our distinguished alumni judges, ensuring you gain insights to refine and elevate your venture.

Success Stories

Learn more about previous Startup Challenge Winners

Our History

Over 20 Years of Entrepreneurial Excellence

Since 1998, University of Pennsylvania students have participated in a year-long challenge to found a business, originally known as the Wharton Business Plan Competition (WBPC). Established in the 2016-2017 academic year, the current Startup Challenge engages student founders and team members, connecting them with Wharton and Penn resources through Venture Lab (formerly Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship) programming and teaching the fundamentals of entrepreneurship along the way.

Participating judges, who are predominantly alumni and are all professionals in their fields, offer feedback and guidance. The Startup Challenge culminates in the Startup Challenge Finals, Venture Lab’s flagship event, bringing together successful entrepreneurial alumni with Penn student entrepreneurs, to showcase the best ventures from across Penn’s campus.

Startup Challenge FAQs

What is the Startup Challenge?
The annual Venture Lab Startup Challenge has served as a launch pad for some of the best entrepreneurs at Penn for more than 20 years.

As Penn's largest pitch competition, Venture Lab's Startup Challenge provides a unique platform for all students at Penn a platform to present their strategic go-to-market plans and groundbreaking ideas.

Through the Startup Challenge, Venture Lab aims to uncover ideas with the potential for profound impact on end-users and offers resources and opportunities for student entrepreneurs to enhance their venture's communication capacities, iterate pitches through our Venture Initiation Program coaching and mentoring, and receive invaluable feedback from our esteemed panel of expert alumni judges.
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?
  • The Startup Challenge accepts entries that are new ventures, started during the Lead Applicant’s enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania. Ventures launched before a team member enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania are not eligible.
  • Non-profit ventures are eligible.
Does a venture need to be incorporated before applying to the Startup Challenge?
  • 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. Winners will be eligible to participate in an advising session on incorporation once the competition has concluded. Please note, it can take several weeks to several months to incorporate and receive an EIN, so it is recommended that you begin the process 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 Lead Applicant’s citizenship status.  
Does the Startup Challenge 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 Challenge Finals are open to the public, including members of the media/press. It is the responsibility of the team members invited to participate in the Startup Challenge to keep confidential information confidential and to maintain the confidentiality of their own intellectual property. 
How does Venture Lab utilize the Startup Challenge in media?
  • 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.)
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 led by 1 person are allowed, as long as the Lead Applicant is a currently enrolled, degree-seeking Penn student. Teams are permitted to have non-Penn team members. A drafted founder’s agreement (or similar document) denoting all co-founders and equity-holders is a mandatory part of the competition application. 
Can I participate on more than one team?
  • Yes, you can participate as a member on more than one team
I am an exchange student/post-doctoral student here for the year. Can I participate in the Startup Challenge?
  • You can participate on a team in the Startup Challenge, but not as a Lead Applicant. Your team must be led by a currently enrolled degree-candidate student of the University of Pennsylvania (graduate or undergraduate).
  • Students applying to the Summer Venture Award must fall within the following criteria:

    • Rising fourth-year undergraduate students (class of 2025) in a degree-seeking program at the University of Pennsylvania 
    • First Year MBA students 
    • Penn graduate students who will be returning to Penn for at least one more semester.
What if I miss the application submission deadline due to technical issues? 
Please ensure to complete your application by the deadline of 11:59 PM on January 28th, 2024. If an applicant misses a deadline due to unforeseen technical issues their application will not be considered. Please factor in enough time to ensure there are no obstacles, technical or otherwise, before the deadline.