2021/2022 State System Startup Challenge

The State System Startup Challenge is an opportunity for students attending one of the 14 state-owned universities to compete for prize money of up to $10,000 for their innovative ideas. Winners receive prize money to assist in making their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur come true.

Application to Compete in the Challenge opens August 30, 2021!


The State System Startup Challenge Committee is seeking State System students who are interested in starting or growing their own business in Pennsylvania. 

Individual students or student teams compete by submitting a condensed version of their business plan—a business profile—to be screened by our committee members and, if eligible, scored by our first round of judges. Those students or student teams with the highest scored profiles—known as semi-finalists—will advance to the second round of judges. The second round of judges will score the semi-finalist profiles, and the highest scored profiles will advance as finalists. Finalists and Semi-finalists will be invited to a virtual Zoom event for the final round of the SSS Challenge and the winners will be announced at the conclusion of the event on April 21, 2021.  

  • 2020-2021 State System Startup Challenge Winners
    Congratulations to Shippensburg University students, Alex Spease and Lindsey Neidinger for winning 3rd Place and $2500 Startup Money in the 2021 SSS Challenge! Alex and Lindsey are the Co-Creators of Aloe & Ivy Greenhouse and More.   Lindsey is a marketing major, and Alex is a double-major in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.   Alex and Lindsey are both Honors students in the Woods Honors College and the John L. Grove College of Business. 
  • 2019-2020 State System Startup Challenge Recap
  • Previous winners  

View examples from past years’ competitions: 

Business Profile 1  |  Business Profile 2

**Starting August 30, 2021**
Enter the competition here

Prizes include: 

1st place - $10,000.00 – PSECU
2nd place - $5,000.00 – East Stroudsburg University and PASSHE Foundation
3rd place - $2,500.00 – AT&T

Student Submission due dates:

Application to Compete in the Challenge opens August 30, 2021!

Round 1 – 1 Minute Pitch plus 4 question / criteria
November 23rd, 11:59 PM

Round 2 – Business Model Canvas – 10 criteria no video
February 26th, 11:59 PM

Round 3 – 5 Minute Pitch 
April 21st, 7:00 PM – with Q and A between Judges and Finalists

Application to Compete in the Challenge opens August 30, 2021!

Steps to completion:

Create an account with YouNoodle here

Round 1 – 1 Minute Pitch plus 4 question / criteria

                November 23rd, 11:59 PM

Round 2 – Business Model Canvas – 10 criteria no video

                February 26th, 11:59 PM

Round 3 – Live 5 minute pitch OOC, 1 Minute Elevator Pitch – Virtual

                April 21st, 7:00 PM – Virtual, with Q and A between Judges and Finalists

Please complete the Personal Form ands round one challenge questions on the application by November 23rd, 2021. If you do not enter this information by this date at 11:59 p.m., your application will not progress. See the video below for more detailed info on how to enter. 

If you do not submit your application with all required Business Profile questions completed by February 26, 2022 at 11:59 p.m., your application will be deemed "incomplete.” Incomplete or deficient Business Profiles will not be continued in the competition process. You are encouraged to attach supplementary documents; however, you are not permitted to refer to "See Attachment” as an answer. 

A Business Plan, if developed, can be added as an attachment near the end of the profile. You are not expected to have a full-fledged Business Plan. However, students who do develop a full-fledged Business plan tend to progress. 

You may rework your Business Profile up until February 26, 2022, 11:59 p.m. All required questions within the profile must be completed and the profile must be submitted by this deadline to continue in the competition process.

Finalists and Semi-finalists will be invited to a vitural Zoom event for the final round of the SSS Challenge and the winners will be announced at the conclusion of the event on April 21, 2022.     

For more detailed information on how to complete
your application, see the video below: 
* Note *
This video is for application reference only, dates and times discussed during the video are from a previous competition

For technical issues with the YouNoodle platform, students and Committee members should contact the coordinator at rmgardner@ship.edu. 

Participants of the competition agree by registering for the competition to allow PASSHE to use their photographs, name, or details of their entry in publicizing the State System Startup Challenge.

1. Eligible applicants must be matriculated undergraduate or graduate students, enrolled full-time or part-time during the Fall 2021 semester, at any of the 14 PA State System of Higher Education universities: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, West Chester. 

2. A team of contestants must include an active state system student who has a management level role within the business. 

3. Nonprofit businesses must have no less than 2 State Systems students who are founders of the business and with voting rights shall be members of the Board when the business is launched. A copy of the organization's By-Laws can be added to the Business Profile, which will evidence the inclusion of student membership within the Board. 

4. Team Members need not come from the same State System university; teams could be formed from one or more State System universities. 

5. Only active students should be listed as the Team Leader and additional applicants; you will identify other equity ownership members, who are not active State System students, in the management section question in the business profile.

6. An eligible pre-venture or early stage business is one that: has been operating for three years or less to include a business operating as a sole-proprietorship and has cumulative revenue from sales during the last three years (2018-2020) of $75,000 or less. 

7. To qualify for the funding awards the businesses must be located in Pennsylvania. The business' headquarters operations and a majority of key management personnel must be located within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Be sure to indicate your business' actual or planned location by name.  Business incorporation may be made in States other than Pennsylvania, likewise, sales, operations and business related activities can be conducted nationally and internationally. 

8. An individual or team who had previously received third-party funding must disclose the amount and the percentage of equity owned by non-student equity owners, when completing the financial section of the Business Profile. 

9. Each team of contestants must have control over intellectual property (IP) or written permission to use the IP in the business they propose to launch from the person and/or organization who owns the IP. 

Contestants are encouraged to protect the intellectual property they propose to make, distribute or sell in the business profile. If you are unsure of intellectual property issues, then speak with your university's contact. At the same time, contestants must ensure that their proposed development does not infringe on intellectual property of others.  Intellectual property includes copyrights, trademarks/service marks, provisional patents and patents. 

Intent to license another's intellectual property as a component of your product or service is allowed in the business plan competition. 

If you have a question regarding Intellectual Property ownership, please link to: Student Intellectual Property Agreements  http://www.passhe.edu/inside/asa/resources/technologytransfer/default.aspx

Prizes include:

  • 1st place - $10,000.00 

  • 2nd place - $5,000.00

  • 3rd place - $2,500.00

The awards for the first, second, and third place winners are intended to assist the winners in capitalizing and developing or growing their business venture.

Prize money is available to currently enrolled and matriculating degree candidate students in good standing as of the fall 2021 semester. Awardees of the First, Second and Third major cash prizes:

  • A portion, 10%, of the award will be available as cash upon receipt of the W9 form. The balance of the award will be held in escrow by the awardees University. Awards will be transferred to the university from the PA Foundation and will be released to the winner for business related costs with proof of payment.
  • No more than 10% of the award can be used for salaries or wages.
  • Business related costs may include, but are not limited to professional services, such as accounting, legal, or consulting, that are needed to complete the business plan, establish a legal structure, secure financing, and complete related start up tasks.
  • The use of free resources, such as the Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC), on-line training, are recommended and preferred. However, awardees are permitted to use up to 30% of their award for professional development/training that meets the following standards:
    • The development or training must be necessary to obtain a certification or license that is required by the state to operate the winning business.
    • They must be short-term (one to two weeks) intensive training, including continuing education units (CEU) programs, which provide the skills needed to operate their business.
    • Conferences must be less than one week and offer professional development sessions that provide the skills needed to operate their business.
  • Rent and utilities for space to conduct the business.
  • Working capital for business costs, which include advertising, supplies, materials, inventory, web site development, etc.
  • Necessary equipment.
  • No funds may be used to complete degree requirements at any level.

Students who are undergraduates or in graduate school, at the date of the award, have up to three (3) years from the date of the award to expend all awarded funds.  An extension may be allowed based on justification satisfactory to and with approval by the university and Competition Coordinator. 

If a team wins the competition and only one, or several, of the team members proceed with the business development, those who proceed with the development will receive the award benefit. Teams are encouraged to enter into an Operating Agreement, prior to or upon entry into the competition.  If not a sole proprietorship, then companies should provide evidence that a legal entity was actually formed, for example, a Partnership, or Limited Liability Company (LLC).  A W-9 Taxpayer ID form will be required of each cash awardee. (W9 will be provided at the conclusion of the Awards Ceremony on April 21, 2022.) 

Funds in escrow will be deposited at the awardee's university in a secure interest bearing account, with interest to accrue to the awardee.

Students are encouraged to contact their campus representative for a list of business development resources, such as Small Business Development Centers, and Mentors which may be available to them, as well as any additional information about the State System Startup Challenge. Your university Entrepreneur Leadership Coordinator or university designee can provide assistance.  Be sure to seek advice as everyone is willing to assist you.

Committee Members

  • Mark Lennon, (724-938-5370) lennon@calu.edu
    Director, Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at California University
  • Christa Cobb, (610) 399-2683   ccobb@cheyney.edu
    Project Development Coordinator, Entrepreneurial Leadership Center at Cheyney University 
  • Tracy Reinsel, (814-393-2060)  treinsel@clarion.edu
    Business Outreach Consultant, Clarion University SBDC
  • Jamie Kizer, (570-422-7995) jkizer3@esu.edu
    Manager, Entrepreneurial Leadership Center, East Stroudsburg University
  • Douglas Battleson, dbattleson@edinboro.edu
    Associate Professor, Department of Business and Economics/ Department of Graduate Studies in Business 
  • Joette Wisnieski, (724-357-5912)  wisnie@iup.edu
    Professor, Department of Management at Indiana University 
  • Ji Xiaoxuan (Shelly), (570-662-4554) xji@mansfield.edu
    Assistant Professor at Mansfield University
  • Rebecca Gardner, (717- 477-1670) rmgardner@ship.edu
    Assistant Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation at Shippensburg University
  • John Golden, (724-738-4352) john.golden@sru.edu
    Instructor, School of Business at Slippery Rock University
  • Pattie Diggin, PDiggin@wcupa.edu
    Director, Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center at West Chester University

For technical issues with the Startup Compete platform, contact:

Pennsylvania's State System Student Business Plan Coordinator at rmgardner@ship.edu.


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