Compete for a slice of more than $300,000 in cash and in-kind awards to help launch your venture!

The 2023 Startup Challenge now includes the Summer Venture Award with 9 awards at $10,000 each, and 12 other unique prizes and awards such as The Ashton Family Award for Female Founders, The Launch Award, The AI For Business Award, and more. See our complete list of awards and prizes below.

The Startup Challenge is a competition for Penn student-founded new ventures. 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!

How To Get Involved

2023 Startup Challenge Timeline

Monday, December 12th
Application Opens In Survey Monkey Apply
Sunday, January 22nd
Application Deadline via online only
before 11:59 pm
Friday, April 7, 2023
Startup Challenge Semifinals
virtual via Zoom
Friday, April 21, 2023
Startup Challenge Finals
live at Tangen Hall

2022 Venture Lab Startup Challenge Photo Highlights

The 2022 Venture Lab Startup Challenge was held on Friday, April 29th, 2022 at Tangen Hall in front of a live audience of more than 130+ attendees. Eight finalist teams pitched their innovative concepts for a chance to win up to $150,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.

2021 Venture Lab Startup Challenge: Elevator Pitches

Watch the 2021 Startup Challenge finalists pitch their ventures to viewers from across the globe!
0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion

Press Coverage

Venture Lab is hosting their 2021 Startup Challenge, sponsored by Eric Aroesty, on Friday, April 30th and Karl Ulrich, CIBC Professor and host of Launch Pad, interviews five semi-finalists from challenge in this hour long special episode!

Interviewees: Nouri, Xoma, Fulton, 3CorBio, and Altrui Rx
PHILADELPHIA, MAY 3, 2022 – The University of Pennsylvania’s Venture Lab is pleased to announce the winner of the sixth annual Startup Challenge, sponsored by Eric Aroesty, C’92: ToxiSense, co-founded by a team of four University of Pennsylvania freshmen, Aravind Krishnan, C’25, W’25; Udit Garg, ENG’25; Andrew Diep-Tran, W’25; and Aarush Sahni, C’25. The Startup Challenge was held on April 29, 2022 at Tangen Hall, the University of Pennsylvania’s hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation.

Startup Challenge FAQs

What is the Startup Challenge
The Startup Challenge is 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 Challenge includes the Semifinals, Finals, and Awards Ceremony.

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 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 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 Challenge 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.

What is the newly included Summer Venture Award Prize?
up to 9 awards at $10k each.

This year the Summer Venture Awards are being added to the Startup Challenge. The Summer Venture Awards are intended to assist students financially over the summer in lieu of full-time internships so that they can focus on developing their entrepreneurial ventures. University of Pennsylvania undergraduate rising seniors and rising 2nd year Wharton MBAs are eligible to receive these awards. Penn graduate students who will be returning to Penn for at least one more semester are also eligible to apply.

An existing business is only eligible if, before the start of the current academic year, it has received less than $100,000 in institutional funding. Institutional funding includes any funding from angel investors, VCs (any stage, including seed), and/or accelerator/incubator programs. Winners are required to work on their ventures full-time over the summer.
Get The Inside Track