Largest statewide startup competition offers entrepreneurs mentorship and connections — plus $475,000 in prizes and new education and training division
Calling all start-ups, business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs: MN Cup opens for applications Monday, March 26. Now in its fourteenth year, MN Cup, the nation’s largest statewide startup competition, connects and coaches early stage ventures as they compete to be named the best new business idea of 2018. And now with nine divisions — including the newest, Education and Training, there are more ways to win. Minnesota businesses who choose to apply can be in any stage from mere idea to revenue-generating operation—as long as their annual revenue is under $1 million.
The competition kicks off with a free event Monday, March 26 at Minneapolis Event Centers and the application period closes April 27. The competition is designed to be the first step in launching a business in Minnesota, and even businesses still in the back-of-the-napkin stage qualify to compete for a share of the $475,000-plus in prize money. The MN Cup’s entry divisions include General, High Tech, Energy/Clean Tech/Water, Food/Agriculture/Beverage, Life Science/Health IT, Impact Ventures, Student (undergrad or grad students), Youth (18 and under) and the newest, Education and Training.
There is no fee to enter the competition, and no equity taken. There are many rewards to go around, providing the financial support needed to grow Minnesota’s young businesses. While each division runner-up will receive $5,000, division winners receive $30,000 and a shot at the $50,000 grand prize. The Youth division will award a total prize of $20,000 — the first place winner will receive $10,000, and the second and third place winners and semifinalists will divide up the remaining funds.
Since 2005, MN Cup has assisted and accelerated the development of new business ideas. Acting as a hub that connects the various parts of Minnesota's business ecosystem, MN Cup is a crucial resource for emerging entrepreneurs. Its programs are particularly important to groups underrepresented in common depictions of startup culture, including veterans, women, and people of color.
More than 13,000 Minnesotans have participated since the contest began, and finalists have gone on to raise more than $280 million in capital to support the development of their ideas, create jobs, and broker numerous business partnerships, collaborations and distribution agreements. And they’ve done it all with the help of MN Cup’s support network of 350+ volunteers and 75+ partners and sponsors, who believe in the promise of creating a thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in Minnesota.
Last year’s grand prize winner was MicroOptx, Inc., a medical device company that makes implants for halting the progression of glaucoma. But prize money and mentorship also went to many other companies, including Autonomous Tractor Corporation, which retrofits farm equipment for automation and electric power; the woman-led Z Flow Pro, the air-curtain face shield; the fantasy soccer app Starting 11, and sixteen other companies —check out the full list here.
The application is a simple online summary of the opportunity, progress and plan. MN Cup entries must describe the product or service, market opportunity, a sales and marketing approach, a brief operating plan and high level financial projections and assumptions. After reading the entries, MN Cup judges will select semifinalists from each division to develop more comprehensive presentations and plans. They will then choose three finalists from each division to present their concepts. Winners from each of the nine divisions will be announced in August. At the MN Cup awards celebration in October, one will be chosen as 2018’s best breakthrough business idea. Each round offers opportunities to explore business ideas, gain exposure, learn about available business resources, be paired with MN Cup mentors and meet members of the MN Cup Review Board.
Competitors in every division are also eligible to win dedicated prizes, including awards from Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development, The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Carlson Family Foundation, Meda, Securian Financial Group, Sunrise Bank and AARP.
Lead sponsors of the 2018 MN Cup competition include The Cleveland Family Endowment, Bush Foundation, ECMC Group, ECMC Foundation, Carlson Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, University of Minnesota, General Mills, 3M, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, Inc., UnitedHealthGroup, Land O'Lakes, Inc., Pentair, and Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development.
A program of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, The MN Cup is a free, annual competition that seeks to support, connect and accelerate the development of the best breakthrough ideas from across the state. For more information and details on how to enter for 2018, please visit mncup.org.