Startup Challenge

Startup Challenge

The Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies 2016-17 Start-Up Challenge

The Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (The Graham Center) Start-Up Challenge provides a process for students to create a start-up business. Competitors will form interdisciplinary teams and take ideas from the concept phase through a feasibility study/market analysis to a business plan and prototypes. These competitions are designed for undergraduate students across all programs at Penn State York and any active Graham Center student. Student teams will have faculty and corporate advisers. Teams will receive feedback and comments from judges. The winning teams will receive recognition and awards.

Design Thinking Training

Penn State York students involved in the Start-Up Challenge had the opportunity to participate in a Design Thinking Training workshop as part of their preparation for the competition.

Eligibility and Rules

  1. Only degree-seeking, undergraduate students whose home campus is Penn State York are eligible to participate. Any active Graham student may be a team member as well.
  2. All team members must be actively involved in the development of the start-up business venture and must showcase their work/results at The Graham Center Start-Up Challenge Showcase Finale.
  3. Each team must include at least two, but no more than five, undergraduate student team members.
  4. There is no fee for entry.
  5. The primary goal of this challenge is to identify ideas that have a reasonable chance to become a successful small business.
  6. Participants who are deemed to be entering joke or fake entries will be disqualified from the challenge. Additionally, participants who promote illegal, illicit, unethical, immoral, or activities that may be considered unworthy of association with The Pennsylvania State University will be disqualified.
  7. The organizers reserve the right to make decisions, including disqualification or removing a team from any portion of the challenge. At any point during or in the following weeks after the challenge, if a rules violation occurs, or if it is determined that a team member’s actions were in conflict with the spirit of the challenge in part or in general, disqualification may occur.
  8. All participants are subject to the Penn State University Academic Integrity.
  9. Each team will receive up to $1,500 for project expenses beginning with Round 2. Receipts must be submitted through proper channels as directed by The Graham Center.
  10. Prizes will be awarded to first, second, and third place winners of the Showcase Finale.
  11. Winners of the Showcase Finale may be considered for entry to future competitions at Penn State and beyond, as arranged by The Graham Center.
  12. A minimum of two teams must be accepted in order for the Start-Up Challenge to be conducted.

How to Participate

Forming Your Team

Each team must have at least one currently registered Penn State University undergraduate student who is an active student in The Graham Center program, with the maximum number of undergraduate students allowed on one team being five. Any undergraduate student on a team, who is not a Graham student, must have their home campus declared as York. We strongly suggest that your team have at least one member who is familiar with the following areas of business: finance, marketing, accounting, and communications/public relations. Interdisciplinary teams are strongly suggested.

Team Leader

Teams must select one student member of the team to serve as the Team Leader. The Team Leader will be responsible for scheduling and organizing team meetings, ensuring deadlines are met, and documents and other information is submitted timely.

Team Advisers and Business Mentor

Faculty members from various academic disciplines at the York campus will be available for advising and coaching teams, as needed. In addition, The Graham Center Corporate Partners will be available as business mentors to requesting teams.


Registration forms are available online as well as in The Graham Center, located in The Bradley Building on campus. The team leader is responsible for registering the team. It is not necessary to have all team members registered initially, however, all team members must be registered prior to Round 2. Teams may add student-members as necessary, for a total not to exceed five at any time for the duration of the challenge.


  1. Confidentiality is not guaranteed in any way. Do not include confidential material in your submissions. We take care with your materials and will generally only make them available to the judges and organizers. While we suggest to the judges and organizers that they do not share your materials, we have no way to enforce this. The organizing committee will not arbitrate any disputes over judges’ or organizers’ handling of entries.
  2. If you are planning to file patent protection on an aspect of your business, you should realize that entry into The Graham Center Start-Up Challenge may be construed as a public disclosure. You could file a provisional patent.
  3. Teams will be required to submit a brief project idea summary of their idea to be used for public relations purposes. The content may be as general or specific as a team desires, but all participants should be aware that the Start-Up Challenge Idea Summary will be public knowledge and it is a requirement for participation in the challenge. Editing by Penn State may be required.
  4. You are free to exclude any material you feel is truly proprietary and at risk of disclosure.


  1. The Graham Center will not provide contact information for individual judges nor will the identity of judges be revealed, unless the judge specifically requests an opportunity to contact students who submitted the plan.
  2. No participant may attempt to contact a judge during or before the competition. Behavior of this nature will result in the disqualification of the participant and his/her team from the Start-Up Challenge.
  3. Concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest for any judges at any stage of the challenge should be directed immediately to The Graham Center Executive-in-Residence.
  4. Decisions by the judges are final.

Competition Process

Round 1 – Idea Summary

Teams must submit an Idea Summary (template provided above). Judges will evaluate the submissions and determine the teams moving to the next round.

  1. The goal of Round 1 is for participants to put ideas on paper in a straightforward document. Document preparation should not require a great deal of time, but must clearly describe the project idea and concept. Essentially, the team should present a compelling case.
  2. Submitting the Entry: By the application deadline for the Start-Up Challenge, the Team Leader must submit an Idea Summary document. The template will also be available on The Graham Center website.
  3. Judges will then review and score the documents. Judges may provide feedback, and if feedback is received, the Start-Up Challenge committee will summarize the feedback to protect the judges’ confidentiality.
  4. The project idea summary for your team will be posted on a page on the Penn State York website.

Round 2 – Business Plan and Budget Development

Teams who move on to Round 2 will attend a Start-Up Challenge Design Thinking Workshop prior to developing their ideas further and submitting their more detailed expanded document. The team is responsible for providing a detailed budget in the amount not to exceed $1,500. Funds from The Graham Center will be available to support the business plan. Budget must include the following:

  • Research and Development
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Permits/Licenses
  • Technology/Software
  • Supplies
  • Travel/Meals (if applicable)
  • (Purchases remain the property of Penn State York.)

All materials for this round must be submitted by the Round 2 deadline. Judges will review all information to determine the teams who will compete in the Grand Finale.

Writing and Submitting your Team’s Expanded Document

Deliverable 1: Submit a complete business plan based upon the team’s Idea Summary.

A detailed written document will be submitted. The goal is to provide the judges with expanded information and content so that they may fully understand the viability of the team’s idea.

Graphics: Photos/pictures may be used in the body of the document and are encouraged. Make sure to cite images properly.

Having a demonstration product, PowerPoint, or brief video is welcome and encouraged. We encourage you to include a reference to those materials within the body of your document. Remember the best pitches use a narrative approach, not a presentation that is heavily laden with PowerPoint.

As part of the team’s complete business plan, provide a description of your company exit plan. Be aware that in the event you make it through Round 2, you will need to report on a company exit. For details of a company exit, see the Start-Up Challenge Idea Summary document.

Deliverable 2: Prepare an investor pitch deck for use during the Showcase Finale event

The pitch deck is usually done in PowerPoint but can also be done in other formats. In addition to the expanded document(s), the judges will have access to an Investor Pitch or Demo that you create and post on YouTube. Your demo should not exceed seven minutes. The video can use props, video clips, animations, audio tracks, demonstrations, actors, etc.

Some entrepreneurs can effectively use pitch decks as their sole document for going to market and/or raising money, and many investors are used to seeing pitch decks as the main document.

Round 3 – Showcase Finale

Investor pitch will be presented at the Showcase Finale

The Showcase Event serves as both a showcase for the top teams in The Graham Center Start-Up Challenge and a mechanism for determining the winning team.

First, second and third places will be determined by the judges. Encouraging your supporters to attend the event will be an important factor. Teams that miss their time slot for any reason (technical problems, conflicting event, traffic, etc.) will not be permitted to pitch at a later time in the event without permission. Exceptions are at the sole discretion of the Start-Up Challenge organizers.

Start-Up Challenge Calendar of Important Dates and Events

  1. November 17, 2016 – Start-Up Challenge Announcement
    Forms available on the website.
  2. December 8, 2016 and January 18, 2017 – Q and A sessions for teams
  3. January 9 – 17, 2017 (first week of spring 2017 semester) - Teams formed and Idea Summary submitted
    1. Idea Summaries judged and teams selected to go to Round 2 by end of January 2017
    2. Concept budget requested
  4. Week of February 6, 2017 – Teams Advance to Round 2
    1. Team members attend an all-day Design Thinking Workshop on Friday, February 10, 2017
    2. Faculty advisers and business mentors invited to attend
    3. General budget allocated
  5. Week of March 13 (first week after spring break) – Business Plan and Investor Pitch in process
    1. Include “Venture budget” - $$ needed for a viable concept to be developed for market
    2. Documents reviewed by judges for completeness and suggestions for revisions
    3. Revise and finalize documents
    4. Mid-April – Start-Up Challenge Showcase Finale
      1. Team pitch made to judges’ panel
      2. Business partners, faculty others invited to attend and to complete Team feedback forms for each team
      3. Winner selected

Entry Videos (2016–17)

App This: 2016–17 Graham Start-Up Challenge Entry

WeKnow, by App This, is the future of learning with its specialized keyboards for every class and most languages, easy communication between group members and professors, and user-friendly file sharing and editing features. Developed by Koven Leatherman and Athena Koufomihalis, WeKnow aims to help students work together and succeed in an academic setting.

App This

Home Solutions: 2016–17 Graham Start-Up Challenge Entry

Our business, Home Solutions, is part of a start up challenge sponsored by the the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies at Penn State York. Our product changes the way you control and interact with your smart home devices. With the push of a button, you can control all your devices such as the Phillips Hue lights, Nest thermostat, and many more devices to be supported soon.

Home Solutions