Competition can be fierce in the startup world, and emerging companies are constantly seeking ways to stand out from the crowd. That's where startup contests come in.
Such events offer startups the chance to present their ideas, products, and business models to a panel of judges, which often includes venture capitalists and industry experts. Sometimes, the winner takes home a cash prize, while other times, the recognition from industry experts and VCs, which is priceless.
Here’s a list of eight competitions that early-stage startups can try their luck in the coming months, along with eight more — which have already closed applications — to keep on your radar for the future.
Startup World Cup
It is a global startup contest and conference organized by Pegasus Tech Ventures, a VC firm based in Silicon Valley.
More than 50,000 people, including 2,500 investors, attend this competition every year. It has featured famous speakers such as Reid Hoffman, the founding CEO of LinkedIn, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, and Marc Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix.
Prize: The finalists will compete at the Startup World Cup Grand Finale in San Francisco on Dec. 1, 2023. The winner will receive a $1 million investment; it will either be in exchange for a portion of equity related to the most recent round of funding or a convertible note.
Requirements: The applicants must be a legal entity. No other restrictions or fees apply — it encourages startups in any domain, at any stage, to apply. Find additional information here.
Notable winners: Abivin, Leuko, UniFa.
Deadline: From spring to autumn in 2023, Startup World Cup has been holding regional competitions in over 50 cities around the world. Check the deadlines for regional competitions and apply here.
Slush 100 Pitching Competition
Slush claims to be the world's largest gathering of venture capital. Last year, it brought together 4,600 startup founders and operators, accompanied by 2,600 investors, representing $1 trillion in assets under management.
The conference’s Slush 100 is one of Europe’s most popular pitching competitions.
Prize: N/A. Last year the prize was a €1 million investment from Accel, General Catalyst, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA, and Northzone.
Requirements: N/A. In 2022, any startup founded in 2019 or later, with <€500,000 in previous equity funding could apply.
Notable participants: NiftPad, zeely, Fungies, beams, bouncel, sociability, Viewalk.
Deadline: Applications have not been launched yet. In 2022, the deadline for applications was on Oct. 7, while the finals were held on Nov. 18.
The Europas combines an annual conference and Europe’s Hottest Tech Startup Awards. It was founded in 2009 by TechCrunch editor-at-large Mike Butcher to celebrate the successes of Europe’s early tech startups.
Prize: N/A. The event promises to give a platform for networking with “all-star VCs” and learning from the experts.
Requirements: For startups and investors headquartered in Europe (including Israel and the Mediterranean basin). The awards entry fee is £395 + VAT where applicable. The fee includes your application fee. It also includes for all entrants, and not just the long- and shortlisted startups, your entry to the online conference and in-person awards.
Category Sector Awards is open to startups that have raised at least a seed round (and up to Series A). For bootstrapped startups, revenue must be over $500,000.
Scaleup of the Year is open to companies that have reached at least Series B (or higher). For bootstrapped startups, revenue must be over $1.5 million.
Notable participants: Spotify, Wise, SoundCloud and Babylon Health.
Deadline: Apply here until July 11, 2023. The event will take place on Nov. 13 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge
This contest is designed for deep-tech startups that solve urgent problems in society, the environment, and various industries. The organizers state that the winners and finalists of the contest have collectively raised over $3 billion since its establishment in 2014.
Prize: The top prize is €100,000, it’s €30,000 for the second place, and the third — €20,000 with no strings attached.
Requirements: The event is for the companies that are in their early stages (up to Series A) and have a team of at least two people. They should also be built on scientific discovery, incorporate new technology, or use a complex engineering process. Subsidiaries or spin-offs are not eligible.
Notable winners: Sweetch Energy, Nanosystems, Agora Energy Technologies, RxAll.
PITCH by Web Summit
PITCH is Web Summit’s startup competition that brings together the world’s leading early-stage startups. All applications are recorded and passed on to an independent panel of influential judges for assessment. The top 105 startups will prepare their deck and delivery to battle it out onstage at Web Summit.
Prize: N/A. "Our startup programme — ALPHA — shines a spotlight on early-stage startups with outstanding potential, connecting them with the world's most influential people and companies," reads the website.
Requirements: PITCH is open to ALPHA and BETA startups exhibiting at Web Summit that have received less than €5 million in funding to date and have not had a discernible change in business model in the last three years.
Notable participants: Revolut, Trello, Wise, Uber.
Deadline: N/A, but applications for 2023 are open — apply for ALPHA here. The event itself is on Nov. 13-16 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Fifty Founders Battle
Fifty Founders Battle is TechChill’s annual pitch competition for early-stage startups. Each semi-finalist will then have the opportunity to present their business idea in front of over 100 investors and other attendees.
Prize: €10,000 with no strings attached.
Requirements: The competition is for early-stage startups from across Italy and the Southern and Western European regions. It is sector-agnostic.
Notable participants: TA-DAAN, deliverart, VADO, hyperjob.
Deadline: Aug. 11. Top 50 companies are announced on Aug. 25, while the semi-finals and final showdown are on Sept. 26-27 in Milan, Italy. You can apply here.
WMF Startup Competition
The WMF (We Make Future) has been “igniting opportunities and connections within the international innovation ecosystem” for over 10 years. Every year, the biggest startup competition in Southern Europe takes place at the WMF event. It brings together top players in innovation from around the world.
Prize: There are three awards: Jury Award, Audience Award, and Special Mention. The first has a potential value of €1 million, as it grants access to the Startup World Cup Final in San Francisco; the Audience Award has a value of €160,000; the Special Mention is worth €15,000 in services provided by Search On Media Group.
Requirements: The WMF seeks to highlight projects and solutions that can generate a positive impact on the environment and communities.
During the application phase, each startup will be asked to indicate which of the 12 challenges of the future they are addressing, including the future of work, health, food & agriculture, learning & education, finance & insurance.
Notable participants: Yalla, Wallife, Cyrkl.
Deadline: N/A. In 2024, the event takes place on June 13-15, apply here.
Focal Demo Day
Focal is an annual startup contest usually held around May and October. It was launched by over 100 VC firms and angel investors who wanted to streamline the fundraising process for early-stage companies.
Prize. N/A. After the demo day, investors will request intros to finalists through a special platform. And startups that won’t be selected to pitch will still be able to get introductions to more than a hundred VCs.
Requirements: Startups from any place that are planning to secure a pre-seed, seed or Series A round in the foreseeable future are eligible to submit their applications. No fees apply.
Notable participants: Slipstream, Bonnet, Captur, Honest Mobile.
Deadline: The applications will reopen on Sept. 5, apply here. The pitch day is scheduled for Oct. 12, 2023.
Read more: 8 reasons why startup presentations fail
Competitions to have on your radar
I have also compiled a list of eight startup competitions that have already closed their applications but can serve as a good opportunity to pitch your startup in the future. Make sure to check their websites and social media for updates.
Startup Battlefield at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.
Infoshare Startup Contest at the Infoshare conference.
Fifty Founders Battle at TechChill Riga.
SXSW Pitch at the SXSW conference.
Х-pitch at the Puzzle X conference.
Startup Competition at South Summit.