Annual entrepreneur competitions open for business

$225,000 in seed money and mentoring attract startups

Ideas, inventions, entrepreneurs and nonprofit enterprises will be in the spotlight Sept. 16 when Washington University in St. Louis fires the starting gun for its two annual business plan competitions.

More than $200,000 in prize money is at stake for the winners who must pass several hurdles in the race to the finish line.

The 23rd annual Olin Cup for commercial ventures will award $75,000 in cash and investment capital and the sixth annual YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition will award $150,000 to nonprofit ventures. Both competitions are accepting applications now.

The kick-off event, hosted by WUSTL’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, begins at 5:30 p.m. in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium. Matthew Bishop, U.S. business editor and New York bureau chief of The Economist, will be the keynote speaker at 6 p.m.


Bishop is co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World and most recently The Road from Ruin: How to Revive Capitalism and Put America Back on Top, both written with Michael Green. The speaker is presented in conjunction with WUSTL’s Assembly Series.

Startups and young companies are the leaders in job creation in the United States, according to a new study from the Kauffman Foundation. “Participating in business plan competitions like the Olin Cup and the YouthBridge SEIC gives entrepreneurs an excellent foundation for their companies,” says Ken Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center.

“Throughout the various stages of the competitions, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to meet with other startups, investors, community leaders and our faculty as they craft and hone their business strategies for success,” Harrington says.

Everyone is a winner in these competitions, according to Rex Reed, executive director of agency services for the YouthBridge Community Foundation, a major funder and partner in the YouthBridge SEIC. “Every venture — whether they make it to the finals or not — can learn so many valuable lessons through the competitions and the Skandalaris Seminar Series that focus on practical skills and networking opportunities.”

The YouthBridge SEIC is the largest social enterprise business plan contest in the United States. In its first five years, 23 competitors were awarded more than $650,000 in cash and in-kind services.

New and established nonprofits in St. Louis may enter the competition. In addition to the YouthBridge Foundation and Skandalaris Center, funding partners include: the Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis and the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis.

Olin Cup and Skandalaris Center sponsors include the Olin Business School; St Louis Commerce Magazine and the St Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association; RubinBrown; Polsinelli Shughart; and Lopata Flegel.

Teams entering the Olin Cup competition must include at least one Washington University student, faculty, staff or alumnus to be eligible for investment awards.

From the first “elevator pitch” to the final presentation, entrepreneurs will face a panel of judges who are experts in entrepreneurship and innovation. Semi-final and finalist presentations are open to the public; check the Skandalaris Center website for more information.

To watch video of last year’s Olin Cup Elevator Pitch Competition, visit here.