The annual MN Cup new venture competition is for Minnesota entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors. Whether you are at the point of inception or already have created a company, this program is for you. Some of our judges answer the question, “Should I Apply?”
MN Cup accepts applications each year beginning in mid March. The application link will be available via MN Cup's homepage through mid-April. For the most up to date schedule, please view our Competitions Schedule page.
Entrepreneurs based in MN with less than $1 million in annual revenue are eligible to apply.
- Entrepreneurs who do not personally live, or own businesses based in Minnesota.*
- Companies with annual revenues exceeding $1 Million
- Companies who have already taken 1st or 2nd place in a prior season’s MN Cup Division.**
*Students attending a Minnesota college or University are welcome to apply to the Student Division, even if their permanent address is out of state.
** Entrepreneurs who have previously won prize money in MN Cup or have been affiliated with other teams are welcome to re-apply with a new company or new idea.
Check out our division descriptions page. Some divisions are separated by industry type. Some divisions are based on age/school status. The Impact Division requires additional considerations. Division categories are broad, it is likely that your company fits in more than one division. If you’ve reviewed the description pages and are still having trouble deciding, attend one of our Division-specific webinars for greater detail on each.
No. Many of you will find you fit into more than one division. We recommend you pick the division where you feel you will stand out to the judges as offering a unique value proposition. You can only apply to one division per company per season. If you are part of more than one company, each company can apply separately, but they need to be distinct entities.
Yes! We welcome back anyone who previously entered and did not win money as a finalist. Prior winners can submit a new idea not associated with a previous win.
Yes it’s 100% free to apply!
Even before 2020, a majority of the competition occurred online. We will continue with the virtual format for judging and educational events. You will need access to a computer to apply to the initial round. If you move on, you will need access to Zoom to participate in many events. As we learn more about the safety of in-person events over the summer, we will share opportunities to network and connect with other participants in person.
MN Cup evaluates applications based on three primary criteria - Opportunity, Plan and Progress. Each application field has a 500 word limit, so your ability to succinctly and clearly explain your business idea is critical. See our Apply page for more advice and examples.
We have nine distinct sets of judges for each of our divisions - these individuals have a range of functional and industry expertise relevant to their respective division. They volunteer their time to review applications and attend events to support entrepreneurs in Minnesota - you can review the list of judges for your division here.
Though we are housed at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business, the Minnesota Cup functions as a not-for-profit. We receive financial support via grants and sponsorships from a number of organizations. All prize money and operational costs to run MN Cup are fundraised each season. Check out our sponsors page to get a glimpse of our generous supporters, and if you are interested in supporting our work financially please click here to get in touch with us.
We now have a YouTube channel! We will periodically upload past event recordings when/if they become available.
We are currently working with YouNoodle, the platform provider that hosts our application, to improve accessibility for the visual and hearing impaired. It is currently not compatible with web reader tools, but we have other support in place to assist people with these needs. If you would like to receive additional support completing the online application, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you notice any other areas where we could improve access to our content, we would welcome your input! Please send us an email at the address shared above.
Your information is submitted through a portal called You Noodle. You will need to create a You Noodle account to begin.
You will find it under the Apply tab on our website. The link is not active or available until opening day. This video walks you through the application portal.
All you need is to describe your idea, the opportunity, your plan, and your current progress. You will have the ability to submit optional items like your website, social media channels, and financial projections. These will further help the judges understand who you are and how far you’ve come, but they are not required.
No. But, if your business is a registered entity, you need to be licensed in the state of MN or can prove you have significant operations in the state. Email us if you have questions about this requirement.
No, but you will have a place in the application portal to enter that information. Some judges may follow those links to better assess your idea, but they are not required to, so make sure your text responses stand on their own.
As it states, the financial projections are optional, but highly recommended. Check out our examples in the Apply section and advice from Judges on our YouTube channel. Even a simple financial breakdown can help the judges better understand your vision.
You likely invited other team members to fill out their personal information, and those team members haven’t logged in to YouNoodle to complete that activity. Your application will display 100% complete as soon as all invited team members accept their invitation and complete their ‘Personal Information’ forms. We’d encourage you to add team members early and communicate with them about filling out their form right away so it doesn’t hold you up at the end of the submission process.
You will receive an email from MN Cup staff whether you have/have not moved on to the semifinal (Top 10) round in late May. With hundreds of applications, it can take time to get these emails out, so please be patient. If you don't hear anything by June, you can email us for clarification.
The semifinalists will be publicly announced in late May or early June on our website and other social channels.
Your information will be kept strictly confidential. We report on such data in aggregate to better understand the range of stages, industries & needs of Minnesota entrepreneurs. These questions and their responses will not be viewable by MN Cup judges and will not be used to evaluate your company with respect to MN Cup’s specific judging criteria.
It is important to MN Cup that our competition and prizes are accessible to all Minnesotans, and collecting this information from all applicants helps us understand whether we’re achieving this goal. In addition, founders of underrepresented groups are eligible for additional cash awards or mentorship from our sponsors even if they do not win their division. These questions and their responses will not be viewable by MN Cup judges and will not be used to evaluate your company with respect to MN Cup’s specific judging criteria.
It is up to your discretion how much proprietary or trade-secret level information you’d like to share within your application. Our judges do not sign a legal NDA, but they do abide by our Code of Conduct. In the later rounds of the competition, you will have the opportunity to publicly pitch your idea. At that time, you can again assess how much information you feel comfortable divulging.
We’ve received consistent feedback that completing MN Cup’s Round 1 Application can be a valuable exercise for founders regardless of their experience level. Even if you do not move forward to the next round, you will receive feedback on your application from our volunteer division judges that can be extremely valuable. We hope you’ll take this opportunity to organize your thoughts, get your ideas on paper, and put yourself out there!
In addition, the companies who move on to the semifinal round will be matched with two mentors to assist them as needed with the remaining competition. Our volunteer mentors are leaders and experts in their field. Their feedback and advice is highly valuable for a new startup. Semifinalists will also have access to a variety of free educational content and services throughout the season. Each of these workshops and support sessions are designed to support early-stage entrepreneurs and common business challenges.
Lastly, winners, runners-up and dedicated prize winners have a chance to win unrestricted seed money for their business!
Grand Prize Winner = $50,000
Division Winners = $25,000
Youth Division Winner = $10,000
Youth Division Runner up = $7,500
Youth Division 2nd Runner up = $2,500
+ Additional cash prizes funded by sponsors & partners
No! MN Cup does not take equity in exchange for your participation in the competition, or in return for cash prizes.
We leave it to your discretion to decide how the funds will be most helpful for your company. We love our alumni to share with us how their winnings helped them hire employees, develop a prototype, or reach another important milestone in their growth.
Yes! We plan to have both virtual and in-person networking events this season*
*We intend to follow recommendations and policies set forth by the CDC and University of Minnesota related to the safety of in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our mentors come from a variety of industries and businesses. Many are serial entrepreneurs themselves. All of them volunteer their time because they believe in supporting the startup ecosystem in Minnesota. If you are selected as a semifinalist and have the opportunity to work with one or more MN Cup Mentors, you’ll have the opportunity to view their bios and share your preferences of whom you’d like to work with.
In this round you will be judged on 3 deliverables: 10-page business plan, 15-slide pitch deck, 1-minute video
You will receive an invite link to the YouNoodle platform to apply to the next round. Do not use the previous links from the first round.
You will be invited to the Minnesota mentor platform site. From there, you will assess the available mentors and submit your top 5 requests. The MN Cup staff will match you with your mentors. If we can’t fulfill one of your top 5, we will find another awesome mentor who fits your needs.
That’s not something we recommend as we all need mentors, but if you’re reluctant to work with one, let us know ASAP before the match. We want to make sure our mentors are utilized.
Division semifinalists will have a chance to publicly showcase their idea with a quick, virtual pitch. More details to come, but companies have a chance to win best pitch prizes and to market their idea to a new audience.
Division finalists (Top 3) will be judged during a live pitch/Q&A event. This event is virtual and closed to the public. Finalists do not turn in anything before the event for judging.
The 9 division winners will compete for the overall grand prize. Each division winner will pitch to the Grand Prize Review Board followed by a Q&A session.
The GPRB is made up of judges from across all 9 divisions, sponsor reps, long-time supporters of the MN Cup, and the founders.
The GP ceremony is a chance for Division Winners and Runners Up to showcase their company for the public. It’s also when we award the Grand Prize Winner and Runner Up as well as additional sponsor prizes.