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FAQs

Before applying, please read the eligibility requirements and the VentureCat Official Rules & Guidelines.

How far along should a startup be to apply for VentureCat?

VentureCat is a startup competition, not a business idea competition. Applicants should be able to demonstrate that they have taken concrete steps to build a product or service that is addressing a market need. Teams may be in different stages with their businesses, but all applicants need to show progress beyond an initial idea.  

Review the judging criteria (below) and determine if you are ready to address each area. Many applicants will be pre-revenue, although some may have already shown traction via sales or pilot programs.   

Student founders should be actively working on your startup and able to demonstrate your level of commitment.

The judging criteria for all stages of application and competition is as follows:

PROBLEM
-Significant problem identified
-Validated by primary or secondary research
-Customer groups sized and identified

PROPOSITION (Value Prop & Business Model)
-Compelling solution with path to scalability or growth
-Differentiated customer value
-Demonstrated understanding of the competitive marketplace
-Business model outlined with realistic revenue sources

PROGRESS (Progress & Traction)
-Progress beyond idea stage: examples could include - proof of concept, customer research, customer outreach, testing, product development, patent or trademark application, sales, etc.
-Proposal for additional funding to accelerate progress

PEOPLE (Team)
-Presentation materials and Q&A demonstrates expertise, commitment, coachability, and thoughtful approach
-Immediate term and near-term team needs and skills identified
-Commitment to continuing beyond graduation

Do I have to have a registered company?

Yes. Teams must have a U.S. based registered business entity and its IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN), or a foreign entity at the time of application. All applicants will be required to upload a completed W-9 form for U.S. based entities or a W-8 BEN-E form for a foreign entity when applying.

If selected as a semifinalist and awarded any prize money, students must have a U.S. based registered business entity and a completed W-9 form to receive payments. Payments will not be made to foreign entities. All VentureCat prize payments are made to companies, not individuals.

When do applications open and close?

VentureCat applications typically open at the end of March. Check back for exact dates for 2022.

What does the application entail?


  • 10 slide pitch deck
  • 60 second simple pitch video
  • Application questions based on the judging criteria

Teams must have a U.S. based registered business entity and its IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN), or a foreign entity at the time of application. All applicants will be required to upload a completed W-9 form for U.S. based entities or a W-8 BEN-E form for a foreign entity when applying.

If selected as a semifinalist and awarded any prize money, students must have a U.S. based registered business entity and a completed W-9 form to receive payments. Payments will not be made to foreign entities. All VentureCat prize payments are made to companies, not individuals.

How are applications and semifinals and finals pitches evaluated?

The judging criteria for all stages of application and competition is as follows:

PROBLEM
-Significant problem identified
-Validated by primary or secondary research
-Customer groups sized and identified

PROPOSITION (Value Prop & Business Model)
-Compelling solution with path to scalability or growth
-Differentiated customer value
-Demonstrated understanding of the competitive marketplace
-Business model outlined with realistic revenue sources

PROGRESS (Progress & Traction)
-Progress beyond idea stage: examples could include - proof of concept, customer research, customer outreach, testing, product development, patent or trademark application, sales, etc.
-Proposal for additional funding to accelerate progress

PEOPLE (Team)
-Presentation materials and Q&A demonstrates expertise, commitment, coachability, and thoughtful approach
-Immediate term and
near-term team needs and skills identified
-Commitment to continuing beyond graduation

Do winners give up an equity stake in their startups?

No. The prize money is non-dilutive capital and there is no exchange for equity with Northwestern University or any of our sponsors.

Am I eligible to participate if I graduated earlier this year?

Students who were in a degree-seeking Northwestern University program (full-time or part-time) in the current academic year of the VentureCat competition and graduated prior to the end of the academic year are eligible to apply.

Can Northwestern alumni participate?

Teams must consist of at least one currently enrolled degree-seeking Northwestern University student. The Northwestern student must be a co-founder and substantial equity holder in the business.

Can I apply in more than one track?

No. You can only apply to one of the tracks that is the most appropriate for your startup. The VentureCat organizers reserve the right to move entries to the most appropriate track.

Can I apply as a solo founder or are there any limits on number of team members?

Yes, you may apply if you are a solo founder and do not have team members. In your application, we would encourage you to discuss how you will build out your team and what skill sets you would be looking to add first.
There is not a limit to how large a team or group of co-founders can be. Only currently enrolled degree-seeking Northwestern students are allowed to pitch, but your team members may join to support in Q&A.

What is the time commitment if selected as a semifinalist?

VentureCat semifinalists are required to participate in the Pitch Prep Program and be present to pitch on competition day. The program includes many resources, but does not require many scheduled activities. 

  • Attending a one-hour kickoff meeting
  • Brief call with program lead
  • Two 45-minute pitch coaching sessions
  • Working with a professional graphic designer on deck design needs on your schedule
  • Any prep time needed to practice and prepare your pitch
  • Competition day has activities throughout the entire day for teams that make it to finals

How much can I win?

All semifinalist teams will receive $1,000 as a selection award. In 2021, the first place track winners received $9,000 and the second place track winners received $6,000 in semifinals. The prizes awarded at finals were grand prize $150,000, second place $50,000 and third place $25,000. Therefore, a team that won their track and the grand prize could win $1,000 for selection, $9,000 + $150,000 = $160,000.

During the Public Showcase event we also awarded an audience favorite vote prize of $2,000.