The Innovation Challenge will bring $250,000 in total funding during the 2021-22 academic year across the University of Iowa's campus. The Challenge is a university-wide competition with the goal to identify, advance and support the most innovative and entrepreneurial projects on campus.

There are two phases to the Challenge:

The first phase, an Elevator Pitch Competition, will be held Nov. 15-16, 2021. Applications are due Oct. 28, 2021. The second phase, a Business Model Competition, will be held April 11-12, 2022.  Applications will be open for this phase at the beginning of the 2022 Spring Semester, with a deadline to enter March 24, 2022.

Coaching will be available for both competitions to help individuals/teams prepare. Please contact Jan Finlayson for more information.

This competition is open to all University of Iowa:

  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Graduate students
  • Undergraduate students
  • Incubator startups
  • UI Program or Academic Alumni (for the Business Model Competition portion ONLY of the Challenge - Spring 2022)

    *We define "Incubator startup" as either participating in the UI's Research Park, or active alumni members receiving support from the UI Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory.

    * We define "UI Program or Academic Alumni" as either having previously been enrolled as a student at UI, or having participated in an Iowa JPEC outreach program. These outreach programs include Venture School alumni, Business Consulting Clients, Small Business Development Center Clients, and businesses who employed a student intern through our Iowa Innovation Associates program. UI Program or Academic Alumni will be eligible to participate in the second phase of the Challenge, the Business Model Competition, spring 2022.

    * Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Incubator Startups: Winners of over $5,000 from last year's 2020-21 Innovation Challenge are ineligible to apply for the same or similar project.

    * Undergraduate Students: Winners of over $2,500 from last year's 2020-21 Iowa Innovation Challenge are ineligible to apply for the same or similar project.


How it works

The second phase of the Innovation Challenge is the Business Model Canvas (BMC) Competition.  This competition is based on the methodology of the Business Model Canvas and requires that companies tell their story beginning from the idea stage including pivots along the way. It describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value. The Spring 2022 Business Model Canvas competition is scheduled for April 11 and 12, 2022.

This competition will be open to faculty, staff, graduate students, undergraduate students and incubator startups. In addition, the Alumni Category of the competition will be open to UI Program or Academic Alumni.

  • If you are an undergraduate student, please see this page for more information and to apply. UNDERGRADUATES WILL COMPETE APRIL 12.
  • If you are UI Faculty, Staff, Graduate Student, or Incubator Startup, please see this page for more information and to apply. FACULTY, STAFF, GRAD STUDENTS, AND INCUBATOR STARTUPS COMPETE APRIL 11.
  • If you are a University of Iowa Program and Academic Alumni, please see this page for more information and to apply. ALUMNI WILL BE JUDGED THE WEEK OF APRIL 11-15.


Deadline to enter is Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Drop-in Coaching will be available to anyone needing guidance. Stop by the Bedell Entrepreneurial Learning Laboratory (BELL) at 322 N Clinton St. between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the following dates:

March 11

March 25

April 1

No appointment necessary.

Spaces are limited to compete, apply now.


The Business Model Canvas is a tool to help entrepreneurs walk through what it takes to start a business. This video walks you through that process to help you build a successful business.


Get a jumpstart on the competition! Check out our Innovation Training page for videos and worksheets from experts with quick and easy tips to help you succeed in competitions and take your idea to the next level.



Developing your pitch...the following is criteria on which your pitch will be judged:

Identify Problem  Did they identify the problem? Provide evidence it exists?

Identify Solution  Did they identify the solution and the value it presents?

Feasibility  How easily could idea be implemented?  Do they understand the resources necessary?

Delivery/Engagement  Are they passionate about the idea?  Was the presentation engaging?