Held each fall, The Proving Ground is among the top collegiate business plan competitions in the U.S. for prizes and startup support, up from $50,000 last year. The competition was launched in 2010 with a total prize package of $3,000.
As a result of the growing interest and additional sponsor support, The Proving Ground 2014 competition will feature new categories, including ones in which faculty and staff can compete. Judges will look for ideas – big or small – that are innovative and scalable and that have commercial viability.
Participants have until Oct. 17 to submit their business concept. After that, The Proving Ground becomes a three-round, points-based competition that culminates with eight finalists making their big pitch Nov. 18 in a live event before judges and an audience.
The Proving Ground 2014 categories that faculty and staff are eligible to compete in are as follows:
▪ $20,000 Maxient Social Impact Prize for the business plan best able to contribute or solve a social or environmental challenge. Faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students and recent alumni are eligible.
▪ $20,000 Avenir Discovery Prize for the most innovative business concept that addresses an unmet need or solves an existing problem. Faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students and recent alumni are eligible.
▪ $3,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize chosen by the audience.
The winners also will be awarded an affiliate membership in the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, with support services valued at $5,000 each.
Kress says judges will look for the following when evaluating business concepts:
• a product or service that solves a problem;
• a clearly defined market of potential clients who would be willing to pay for the product or service;
• a clear advantage over competitors;
• demonstrate capacity for the team to bring the product or service to market;
• show how the venture will be profitable; and
• in the Maxient Social Impact category, how the venture will address a social and/or environmental problem.
Each year, more resources have been made available to help participants prepare their startup ideas, including online, at workshop sessions with entrepreneurs and with Live Plan, business plan software made available for free from sponsor Palo Alto Software.