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Before applying, please read the eligibility requirements and the VentureCat Official Rules & Guidelines.
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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 validated market need. Applicants may be in different stages with their businesses, but all applicants need to show progress beyond an initial idea.  

Review the program's evaluation criteria to help 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 their startup, and be able to demonstrate a level of commitment to continue working on the business beyond VentureCat.

Do I have to have a registered company?

If awarded any prize money from VentureCat, the student founder must have a U.S. based registered business entity and provide the program with a completed W-9 form, that includes the business's IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN), in order to to receive payments. Payments cannot be made to foreign entities. All VentureCat prize payments are made to companies, not individuals.

When do applications open and close?

The VentureCat application is typically open from mid-to late-March to early-April. Please see the Schedule and Key Dates page for the most up-to-date information regarding the application period and other VentureCat programming and deadlines.

What does the application entail?

  • 10 slide pitch deck
  • 60 second simple elevator pitch video (no graphics, just you speaking to camera)
  • Application questions based on the judging criteria


How are applications and semifinals and finals pitches evaluated?

The same criteria is used for all stages of the program's activities (application review, semifinals and finals). Please see the Evaluation Criteria page for complete details.


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.

Does my startup belong in the Social Impact track?

Social Impact businesses have a defining goal of creating positive, significant change that addresses a pressing social or sustainability challenge. If your startup is centered on delivering lasting benefits that address a pressing social or sustainability challenge, you may fit in the Social Impact track.

Does my startup belong in the Energy & Sustainability track?

Teams applying to the Energy & Sustainability track should be focused on solutions in the sustainability, energy and cleantech space that will be required to manage climate change, resource constraint and other environmental challenges.

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?

Please see the Prizes page for more information.