According to The Wall Street Journal, we are in the “golden era of venture capital,” and the fear of missing out is quickly growing. Many investors are winning significant payouts from investing in inspired startups looking to change the world, and entrepreneurs with big ideas are gaining traction.
If you ask several entrepreneurs what the largest obstacle is to launching a seed-stage startup, they’ll likely give you the same answer: funding. Raising money to get your company off the ground is time-consuming and labor-intensive. In addition, frustrations are bountiful when asking people to invest, and rejection is common.
If you’re looking to launch your startup or need investors to support your startup’s expansion, we’ve compiled a shortlist of the best startup pitch competitions and how to pick the ones worth your time based on what your company is working towards.
How to Create a Successful Pitch
Preparation is key when crafting your pitch. Here are some tips to help you create a pitch that will resonate with your audience.
1. Do your research
Not all pitch competitions are the same, many have focused niches or are geared toward a certain stage of a startup’s growth. As you look to find the right pitch competitions for your startup, look inward to make sure your company’s mission or market aligns with the contest. Also consider researching previous companies that have won funding, and keep an eye out for commonalities. These shared traits could be crucial clues to help you craft your perfect pitch.
2. Create a pitch deck
Pitch decks are a story about this business and the founding team that fully explains why they are poised for the opportunity and the right team to win. Your pitch deck is not meant to encompass your entire presentation but to supplement your ideas and provide helpful illustrations to drive your pitch home. Keep in mind text-heavy slides can feel boring to an audience, and you want your pitch to leave a memorable impact. Supplement your text with creative visuals to demonstrate your points.
3. Practice your pitch
While you may have minutes to convince your audience, the first few seconds are the most critical for making an impact and hooking your judges. You want to capture their attention and pique their interest.
The human attention span is short. Keeping your communication concise will help your audience to better remember your pitch.
Preparation is essential, and practice works. Look for events where you can practice your pitch, like the NEF Pitch Pit competition. This competition offers a modest award, along with feedback from three experienced entrepreneur judges. Also be sure to practice good video pitch techniques for our often-virtual times.
4. Learn and revise
Practice, gather feedback, and revise your pitch as necessary. Remember that rejection is part of the process. Pitches are not a fixed monologue, but similar to the agility most startups need to find their aligned market fit, pitches need to be frequently adapted and updated based on who might be in the room or on the latest notes you’ve received. But certainly, all founders are in agreement that the more you pitch, the better and more confident you become.
Top 18 Startup Pitch Competitions for 2022
These 18 startup competitions could provide excellent opportunities for pitch practice, connections, and funding.
MassChallenge Early Stage Accelerator
Overview: Since 2010, MassChallenge has helped 2,928 startups raise $8.6 billion in funding, resulting in 186k jobs created and $3.6 billion in revenue.
MassChallenge is committed to accelerating transformative technologies in tech, business, and science. We help connect top entrepreneurial talent with the resources and organizations they need to launch and accelerate their business.
Apply: Find more information on our site and learn about the US early stage startup competitions.
FedEx Small Business Grant
Overview: The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest awards US-based small businesses with significant funding to grow their endeavors. This competition was created to get remarkable business ideas off the ground and support entrepreneurs who are making a difference. Past winners include environmental innovators, medical visionaries, and veterans’ advocates.
Who it’s for: You’re eligible as long as your company has fewer than 50 employees, under $5 million in yearly sales, and you have shipped in the last year or plan to ship goods in the next year for business purposes.
Location/details: The competition is remote and awards $5,000 in grants and up to $7,500 in FedEx Office services to each award recipient. Up to 200 grants are available.
Apply: The 2021 winners have already been announced; however, you may apply for the next year once details are posted.
MIT $100K Pitch
Overview: The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition includes three separate contests held yearly from October to May. The competition gathers a network of resources — venture capitalists, mentors, prototyping funds, and more — to boost fledgling startups.
Applicants submit a 90-second video explaining their ideas and pitching their visions. Then, entrants are whittled down to a few top finalists who will have the opportunity to pitch to a live panel of judges for a chance at the grand prize.
Who it’s for: Teams or individuals can enter submissions. The competition targets students, and while not each team member needs to be a student, at least one needs to be currently registered part-time or full-time at MIT.
Location/details: Located in Cambridge, Mass., the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition has three distinct intensive competitions throughout the year: PITCH, ACCELERATE, and LAUNCH. The winner receives the $100,000 grand prize, and finalists receive considerable prize money. There is no entry fee. In addition, further resources are awarded as well, like mentorships and connections with reputable Boston entrepreneurs.
Apply: Visit the MIT $100K website to learn how to apply.
Overview: Participating in the SXSW Pitch provides more than an opportunity for prize money. Investors worldwide look to the SXSW Pitch competition searching for the best and newest ideas that can change industries. SXSW aims to connect ambitious and innovative talent with leading investors, allowing parties to help each other achieve their goals and more. As a result of SXSW, companies have been acquired by trail-blazing companies like Google, Huffington Post, Apple, and more.
Who it’s for: You’re eligible to apply as long as you’ve launched your product recently (read more for details) and are only entering one product to the SXSW Pitch. Furthermore, founders of the company have to hold onto some portion of their ownership.
Location/details: SXSW is held annually in Austin, Texas.
Apply: The application deadline for 2022 has passed, but you can find more details about applying for subsequent years here.
Overview: U.Pitch is a national competition that helps students and recent graduates present their business dreams to renowned investors and entrepreneurs and get their endeavors the momentum they need.
Joining the competition allows you to connect with a peer community and build supportive relations with young entrepreneurs across the country. In addition, the high-profile event provides the opportunity to receive valuable recognition and be a part of networking and other essential resources for startups.
Who it’s for: To be accepted to the competition, students or recent college graduates must have an idea to start a for-profit company headquartered in the US or have already started a company that’s generated less than $1 million in capital (not cannabis-related).
Location/details: U.Pitch is located in Chicago and occurs each November.
Apply: Application is completely free. To apply, you’ll submit a brief description of your plan and a link to a 90-second video in which you explain your idea. See the U.Pitch site for more details.
America’s Seed Fund
Overview: America’s Seed Fund helps startups navigate early stages of growth in tech. Each startup is eligible to receive up to $2 million to advance its research and development.
America’s Seed Fund is interested in supporting businesses in nearly all tech areas, including artificial intelligence, biological technologies, advanced manufacturing, and environmental tech. Organizers are specifically looking for startups that can make a global difference and show substantial market pull evidence that a service or product has what it takes to fulfill unmet needs.
Who it’s for: This contest is for US small businesses engaged in deep technologies, with fewer than 500 employees, and at least 50% of the company owned by US citizens or permanent residents.
Location/details: Located in Alexandria, VA., ASF accepts project pitches anytime. According to their website, you can typically expect a reply from NSF staff within one month.
Apply: For more information and details about the competition, see the America’s Seed Fund site.
Jacobs Startup Competition
Overview: If you have an idea that stands out from the crowd, Jacobs Startup Competition wants to hear it. Contest organizers aim to provide guidance on first-time business ideas to help contestants transform their visions into ventures.
From the start, you’ll have the opportunity to gain valuable advice from experienced entrepreneurs and professionals. The best teams will be matched with top-tier mentors to coach them on their pitches and guide them through the last application round before the final event.
Who it’s for: Jacobs Startup Competition is searching for truly unique ideas that stand out from the pack and welcomes entrepreneurs and teams from all over the world.
Location/details: Located in Germany, the student-run competition occurs annually in March and offers entrants a chance to connect with an extensive network. Applicants can win a spot in incubator programs, coaching sessions, and 3,000, 1,000, or 500 euros.
Apply: See the website for information on how to apply.
Overview: Collision ALPHA aims to shine a spotlight on seed-stage startups. ALPHA aims to connect budding entrepreneurs with some of the world’s most influential executives, journalists, and investors to get their products and services off the ground.
Collision ALPHA provides a unique platform to share your story with the world. The remarkable network provided to attendees helps startups connect with partners, mentors, and even new hires.
Who it’s for: Collision ALPHA looks to help startups and investors alike harness their potential, combine their expertise, and make meaningful connections to realize their ventures.
Location/details: June 2023, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Apply: See their website for more information on how to apply.
Startup World Cup
Overview: The Startup World Cup holds over 60 regional competitions across the globe, with the respective winners of each region competing at the final event in San Francisco. The focus is on healthcare, AI, robotics, and improving human life in a meaningful way.
The network associated with the Startup World Cup is full of top-tier investors, making it an ideal platform for startups to get exposure and develop connections. Every year, ambitious entrepreneurs and wealthy investors are brought together providing the opportunity for impactful partnerships.
Who it’s for: Startups (legal, registered entities) at any stage in any vertical from anywhere in the world are encouraged to apply.
Location/details: Regional competitions are held worldwide in various locations. Applicants are encouraged to apply to whichever location is closest. The winner of the final event, held in San Francisco, receives a prize of $1 million.
Apply: Apply on Startup World Cup’s website.
LG Mission for the Future
Overview: The LG Mission for the Future has announced a new startup competition to bring together fresh ideas that focus on a greener, healthier, smarter, and more connected future. Headquartered at their Innovation Center in Silicon Valley, their strategic team, LG NOVA, aims to connect startups with the entrepreneur community to harness the world’s best innovative ideas and bring them to life.
This annual nine-month challenge program will pair entrants with the LG NOVA team where they’ll collaborate on business proposals leading up to the final selection process in March. Winners will get to work with the LG NOVA team to boost their growth and potentially launch a new business with LG.
Who it’s for: Ideal for tech innovators looking to positively impact global health, mobility, and lifestyle.
Location/details: Annually in Silicon Valley.
Apply: To learn more about how to apply, click here.
Rice Business Plan Competition
Overview: Rice University hosts an internationally recognized event devoted to supporting entrepreneurs. The multi-day event offers an educational program that prepares innovators to succeed. The competition helps students clarify their purpose and realize their potential with access to mentors and investment opportunities.
Students pitch their ideas to investors, collect feedback, and work on advancing their startups. In addition, students can win substantial cash prizes and connect with industry leaders, coaches, and experienced entrepreneurs.
Who it’s for: This competition is open to student teams (at least two student founders/leaders, with at least one student currently enrolled in a degree program), from anywhere in the world. Applicants for the 2023 program must not have earned more than $250,000 in equity capital prior to July, 2022, and must not have generated revenue of more than $100,000 in any 12-month period prior to July, 2022.
Location/details: Hosted by the Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business in Houston, Texas. Prizes change annually; in 2021, more than $1.6 million was awarded in investments, cash, and in-kind prizes.
Apply: Deadline for application is Feb 28, 2023. See the website for details.
Schneider Go Green
Overview: Schneider Electric believes energy is a human right and is dedicated to benefiting humankind through technology. Partnering with AVEVA, a global leader in technology, Schneider is on the hunt for bold game changers looking to transform energy management.
Sustainability and efficient energy use is a pillar of the Go Green competition, as Schneider is looking to make the most of the world’s resources and energy. They’re seeking individuals and teams who share the desire to re-shape the energy industry and infuse it with smarter, more sustainable solutions.
Who it’s for: The competition is open to Bachelor’s or Master’s students studying engineering, marketing, business, and/or innovation-related studies from all over the world. Applicants must be proficient in English.
Location/details: Applications opened in September, with regional finals occurring from March to April 2023, with global finals in June.
Apply: Visit their website to learn more.
Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
Overview: The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards was founded to provide a platform of support and encouragement for ambitious and inspirational female entrepreneurs worldwide. This women-focused competition selects 21 fellows, representing the top three businesses from seven different areas of the world, for its Regional Awards.
Each of these finalists receives cash prizes, 1:1 mentoring and training, access to peer support, and other non-monetary benefits.
Who it’s for: Women from around the world who are affiliated with for-profit, early-stage startups are encouraged to apply.
Location/details: The 2023 competition will be held in May/
Apply: The application process for 2023 has closed, but check the website for future dates.
SPIE Startup Challenge
Overview: The SPIE Startup Challenge aims to be a point of entry into high tech business development for startups in various stages, from pre-seed stage to a point of generating active market traction. Focusing on several niches within tech each year, SPIE Startup Challenge is accepting applications for startups targeting healthcare and deep tech involving engineering or scientific innovation.
Who it’s for: This competition is open to applicants who have an optics or photonics technology or application that they wish to publicly present as the basis for a viable new business.
Location/details: This annual competition is part of the Photonics West conference in San Francisco.
Apply: See the SPIE website to learn more about eligibility and how to apply.
Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge
Overview: The Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge is a worldwide science and deep tech startup competition that accepts early-stage businesses under two years old that have raised less than 250,000 euros. Various verticals are represented, with 75 startups competing for prizes.
Who it’s for: Startups that are in the early stage of development, based on new technology, have a team of at least two people and have the potential to make a strong impact.
Location/details: The competition is located in Paris every year in December.
Apply: You can apply to be considered for the competition on their website.
Y Combinator Biannual
Overview: Y Combinator is a tech startup accelerator located in northern California that has been hailed for launching heavy hitters like Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and DoorDash. Twice a year, Y Combinator chooses a round for startups from a variety of different stages that get $125k investment from the accelerator and get to participate in a three-month program that helps participants strengthen their business ideas.
Who it’s for: Any startup from merely having an idea to seed funding to 50-person sized.
Location/details: In Silicon Valley, twice a year deadlines are in the late summer and spring.
Apply: Learn more about how to apply on the Y Combinator website.
SevenVentures Pitch Day
Overview: SevenVentures is a European-based competition from parent company ProSiebenSat.1, the media and broadcasting giant with an extensive reach and reputation. The winner of this competition is known to enjoy much-needed exposure and brand promotion.
Who it’s for: SevenVentures Pitch Day is open to existing startups in the pre-seed and seed stage who show ambition and promise.
Location/details: Details about 2023’s schedule have yet to be posted but can be found on their website once announced.
Apply: You can apply on SevenVenture’s website once applications are open.
Shopify’s Sustainability Fund
Overview: If you’re working on a project to fight climate change, Shopify’s Sustainability Fund wants to know about it. Whether it’s just an idea on paper or a fully operational company, Shopify deems any projects or solutions that reduce emissions into our atmosphere worthy of consideration.
The Sustainability Fund is interested in projects that offer a net carbon negative lifecycle, scalability at an affordable price, and can support social equity.
Who it’s for: Shopify’s Sustainability Fund will consider any endeavor that stores carbon dioxide in a way that will be better for the Earth and reduce negative impact on the atmosphere.
Location/details: Applicants submit proposals online. Top applicants are invited to submit additional details.
Apply: Visit the website to learn more.
Deciding Which Competition Is the Right Fit
Finding the right startup competition can help you turn your vision into a reality, as well as connect you with business leaders and mentors that can help you perfect your plan.
At MassChallenge, we offer an excellent alternative to navigating the hurdles of pitch competitions, as we accept applications and offer mentorships throughout the year. In addition, we provide different programs in various verticals where you get expert guidance and tailored partnerships for your early-stage startup. With the tools you need to disrupt the status quo, you can better position your enterprise to create a lasting impact.
Learn more about MassChallenge zero-equity accelerator programs here.