Funding Opportunities

Funding Opportunities for Student Founders: January 2021

5 minutes

We made it!

2021 is now upon us. And while it may not feel remarkably different from 2020 yet, I come bearing good news to kick off the year: it's officially student startup grant season.

There are currently 11 nationwide competitions open collectively worth over $2 million in non-dilutive funding.

Now let's dive right into all of the possibilities to get your venture funded in 2021.

1) Hult Prize 2021 Challenge: Food for Good

Eligibility: Any venture in the sustainable food space
Prize Money: Over $1 million as a grand prize! (seriously)
DEADLINE EXTENDED: January 5th, 2021
>> Application Link <<

The Hult Prize Foundation transforms how young people envision their own possibilities as leaders of change in the world around them. With a US$1,000,000 global startup prize as its anchor activity, the Hult Prize has brought impact-focused programs, events and trainings to over a million students globally, creating a pathway for youth everywhere to take action to build a better world.

Food is the ultimate equalizer. Yet increasingly over recent decades, food systems have become machines of extraction that reduce our well-being, weaken communities, and impoverish the world around us. Store aisles are filled with arsenals of cheap, addictive products that attack the soul through the hollowness of manufactured consumption. Parents wage a daily battle to nourish and nurture their children, while food supply chains funnel massive profits to corporations and billionaires.

In 2021 the Hult Prize is asking youth around the world to build viable food enterprises that will create jobs, stimulate economies, reimagine supply chains, and improve outcomes for 10,000,000 people by 2030.

Check out the Hult Prize 2021 Challenge Packet

2) MIT Water Innovation Prize

Eligibility: The team lead + presenter must be an enrolled university student (at any university, not just MIT)
Prize Money: Winners will be awarded innovation grants of up to $35,000
Deadline: January 10th, 2021 @ 11:59 pm
>>Application Link<<

The MIT Water Innovation Prize is a startup competition focused on water innovation that awards up to $35K in innovation grants annually to student-led teams from across the country and internationally. The Prize started in 2015 and has since awarded $100K to 12 teams.

The entry must involve a technology, product, service, or process aimed at solving a problem related to the world’s water challenges. The water space has numerous opportunities and challenges to solve related to policy, technology, data sensing, analytics, implementation, financing, end-to-end solutions, etc.

A Note Regarding IP
Entering teams must be prepared to provide documentation to validate any claims that are made concerning the intellectual property underlying their business plans, including any claims concerning the licensing of Third-Party IP. Entries should be made with the full understanding of MIT’s regulations on Intellectual Property Rights.

3) Rice Business Plan Competition

Eligibility: Any graduate student-led venture (don't have to be a Rice student)
Prize Money: More than $1.1 million in investment + cash prizes (exact prize structure has not been released for 2021 yet)
Deadline: January 17, 2021
>> Application Link <<

The Rice Business Plan Competition is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition. It is hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which is Rice University's internationally-recognized initiative devoted to the support of entrepreneurship, and the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.

2020 was the 20th year for the competition! In that time, it has grown from nine teams competing for $10,000 in prize money in 2001, to 42 teams from around the world competing for more than $1.5 million in cash and prizes. There are various tracks such as Energy/Sustainability, Hard Tech, Life Sciences, Digital Enterprise, and Consumer Products so you'll have a chance to stand out no matter what your industry is.

So shoot your shot in the Rice BPC today! Secure a slice of that million dollar prize pool.

Learn more about the Rice BPC right here.

4) Tulane Business Model Competition

Eligibility: Any active student-led startup
Prize Money: $125,000 prize pool
Deadline: January 25th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

Hosted by the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Tulane’s A. B. Freeman School of Business, this student startup competition is open to teams that include at least one degree-seeking undergraduate or graduate student from any college or university.

The Tulane Business Model Competition seeks early-stage ventures that can demonstrate how they are adapting to their customers’ needs. The contest rewards those that are creating commercially viable ventures through breaking down an idea into a key business model hypothesis, have tested their assumptions with customers and have applied Customer Development/Lean Startup principles to refine the model for improved success.

Learn more about the Eligibility & Requirements

5) VentureWell E-Team Program

Eligibility: Any student attending a VentureWell member institution (check here first)
Prize Money: $5,000 in Stage 1 Funding (with the possibility to gain $20,000 in Stage 2 Funding later)
Deadline: February 3rd, 2021
>> Application Link <<

The E-Team program supports dedicated science- and engineering-based student teams from across the nation in bringing their high-impact innovation out of the lab and into the market. Every year, they award over $700,000 in non-dilutive E-Team grants to these early-stage student science and tech startups who are on the path to launching innovations with a social, health, or environmental impact. 180+ of their alumni ventures have received over $122M in follow-on funding since taking part in the E-Team program.

The E-Teams Program supports student ventures as they embark down the path they’re likely to take as an innovator and entrepreneur. If teams are able to continue with their startup after they graduate, ASPIRE and their investor network are available to help teams prepare to launch and scale their company.

Learn More About VentureWell's E-Team Program

6) ClimateTech & Energy Prize @ MIT (CEP@MIT)

Eligibility: At least 50% of your formal team members must be enrolled college/university students (at any university, not just MIT)
Prize Money: $100,000 Grand Prize* (along with other monetary prizes/tracks)
Deadline: February 5th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

The ClimateTech & Energy Prize at MIT (CEP@MIT) is the longest running and largest climatetech startup competition for university students. Over the past 12 years, 100+ CEP alumni have successfully launched companies and collectively raised over $1.1 billion in follow-on funding.

The CEP@MIT is structured to identify promising companies and mentor student entrepreneurs. University teams from across the world enter their business ideas and compete in 3 rounds. After initial applications, CEP@MIT judges select the most promising business plans to advance as Semi-Finalists. They then receive mentoring and access to other resources through CEP@MIT sponsors and partners. During this time, the selected teams develop and refine their business plans before presenting them to a panel of expert judges at the CEP@MIT Semi-Finals and Finals.

Learn more about the Eligibility & Requirements and Apply Here.

7) University of Arkansas Heartland Challenge

Eligibility: Main founders should be graduate students
Prize Money: 1st prize: $50k; 2nd prize: $25k; 3rd prize: $10k; 4th place: $5k
Deadline: February 12th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

The Heartland Challenge is designed to mimic the real-world process of raising capital for a high-growth venture. The competition allows students to gain valuable experience and networking opportunities, while developing and building new ventures and technologies or those developed by others. The spirit of the competition is to allow only ventures conceived and developed during the graduate school experience to participate, but teams including undergraduates (including exceptional teams composed only of undergraduates) may apply and will be considered.  

The 2021 competition will be held virtually on April 15-16, 2021.

Learn more about the Heartland Challenge

8) TCU Values & Ventures Competition

Eligibility: Teams led by enrolled undergraduate students
Prize Money: $200,000 in total cash prizes, plus additional in-kind awards from sponsors.
Deadline: February 26th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

The Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition is one of the nation’s premier undergraduate business competitions. The competition boasts distinguished judges and mentors from among seasoned entrepreneurs, investment professionals, CEO’s and others. Throughout the two-day event, students have opportunities to network with other like-minded students, faculty from across the globe and successful entrepreneurs and business professionals.

This international competition epitomizes the Neeley School’s mission – to develop ethical leaders with a global perspective who help shape the business environment – by encouraging student entrepreneurs to develop for-profit enterprises that impact society in meaningful ways. The participants truly have a head for business and heart for humanity. This year they will award over $200,000 in cash awards, including a $100,000 Grand Prize.

Prize Structure

Grand Prize $100,000
Second Place
Third Place
Honorable Mentions (6)
$5,000 each
Elevator Pitch First
Elevator Pitch Second
Elevator Pitch Third
Honorable Mentions (3)
$500 each

Learn more about Values & Ventures

9) Carnegie Mellon Venture Challenge

Eligibility: Main founders should be undergraduates (and not have raised more than $500K in funding)
Prize Money: $17,000 in total cash prizes + $80,000 in-kind prizes
Deadline: February 26th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

Student teams that compete at CMU VC are truly offered a unique value proposition - exposure, funding, and feedback. Early stage companies require significant prototyping funds before a working product can materialize. In order to help teams grow from the experience, the CMU VC aims to objectively reward innovative teams with capital, services, and constructive feedback from experts in a variety of technical and legal domains.

For each of the finalists, the CMU VC brings together a strong network of resources, including mentorship from serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, attorneys, and the opportunity to present and pitch to a panel of judges and the city of Pittsburgh.

Learn more about the CMU Venture Challenge

10) University of Oregon's New Venture Championship (NVC)

Eligibility: Any active student-led startup that was created
Prize Money: $50,000 in total cash prizes
Deadline: February 26th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

Presented by the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, the New Venture Championship is the original six-round business competition.

Founded in 1992, NVC is the premiere international entrepreneurial investment competition. Teams from around the world and the United States defend their business plans to a panel of esteemed judges for valuable feedback and a chance to win more than $50,000 in total cash awards. Aside from monetary prizes students have a unique opportunity to get feedback from judges to create successful venture and capture the attention of angel investors.

Learn more about the University of Oregon NVC

11) Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs

Eligibility: Any active student-led startup with women on the leadership team
Prize Money: Grand Prize: $25,000; Track Winners (4): $10,000; Track Runners Up (5): $5,000; Honorable Mentions (5): $1,500; Fan Favorite (1): $1,000
Deadline: February 26th, 2021
>>Application Link<<

The annual Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs is designed to hone the skills that undergraduate women need to advance from idea to venture creation. Through multiple rounds of competition, students demonstrate an understanding of a problem, why the problem requires a new venture to address it, and how their idea presents the best solution to the problem.

The Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs is for new, for-profit, independent ventures in the seed, start-up or early growth stages.

An existing business is eligible only if, as of 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2020, it has received less than $25,000 in funding and earned less than $100,000 in gross revenue.

The Draper Competition is hosted and organized by the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Smith College.

Learn more about The Draper Competition

The Interactive Funding Database

Those are all of the aggregated funding opportunities that are open as of January 2021. Below are all of the rest of the open opportunities, along with eligibility, funding amounts, deadlines, and more. I recommend you click View Larger Version in the bottom right hand corner and use the filter features to sort through and find the ones relevant to you. This database will be updated monthly - in tandem with these blog posts - so feel free to bookmark and keep coming back.

Kevin Carter

Entrepreneurial Coach

Kevin Carter is an entrepreneurial coach and ecosystem builder. He previously worked for 3 years to build out Johns Hopkins University's first student entrepreneurship program and is currently the co-founder of Emergence Baltimore - a live-in accelerator program designed for founders who build community and ventures during COVID-19.