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Bigger prizes offered in USC startup competition

Staff Report
Published Sept. 25, 2013

The Proving Ground, the University of South Carolina’s startup competition for students, is back for 2013, offering more than $50,000 in cash prizes and startup support.

The entrepreneurial challenge is open to undergraduate and graduate students in all areas of study at the university’s eight campuses.

Student interest in last year’s competition surged with close to 50 submissions from three campuses, said Greg Hilton, director of Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation, the university’s startup center.

"We had teams from all disciplines including chemistry, engineering, business and the social sciences,” Hilton said. “What's more impressive though was the quality of the startup concepts. Like no other time, we're seeing a surging entrepreneurial culture at USC where students are seeing problems and finding innovative ways to solve them. It gets us very fired up.”

Students have until Oct. 18 to submit their business concept. After that, The Proving Ground becomes a three-round, points-based competition that culminates with nine finalists making their big pitch Nov. 19 in a live event before judges and an audience.

In addition to bigger prizes, this year’s competition features more resources to help students prepare their big ideas for a startup. Some of the prizes include:

  • $15,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Prize for the best innovative technology idea for the marketplace;
  • $15,000 Fluor Innovation Prize for the most innovative approach to a business concept; and
  • $15,000 Maxient Social Impact Prize for the business plan best able to contribute or solve a social or environmental challenge.

Dean Kress, associate director of the Faber Entrepreneurship Center in USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, credits sponsor support in large part for the competition’s growth.

“The support from our sponsors has been phenomenal. We literally will be awarding over 10 times as much prize money this year than we did in our first year, 2010,” Kress said. “I think our sponsors recognize the entrepreneurial potential of the University of South Carolina and they want to stimulate that movement and be a part of it.”

The program is an example of how the university is fostering innovation and entrepreneurism across the campuses, said Bill Kirkland, executive director for USC’s Office of Economic Engagement.

"We've been working hard over the past 24 months to build an ecosystem of support for entrepreneurship at all levels, including helping students explore and develop their passion for entrepreneurship,” Kirkland said.

“USC is becoming one of the most approachable entrepreneurial resources in the state, and our aim is to help entrepreneurs at every level be successful."

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