Venture Capitalists often say that the best time to invest is when a startup is ready to “accelerate their growth.” But what if your minimum viable product still requires funds and human resources to develop, how do you get from nowhere to somewhere?

Don’t worry, EQ has your back: here’s a guide to all the startup competitions in St. Louis offering cash prizes. Listed in ascending order of prize money, the further you scroll down the competitions, the richer this page could make you.

Best of all every startup competition listed here awards truly “free cash”, which means you don’t have to give up any equity in your company nor pay back any loans before. If it helps you launch your business, remember to pay it forward someday!

Latest Awards and Recognition from the St. Louis Business Community

Where To Practice Your Startup Pitch

1 Million Cups

1 Million Cups (1MC) offers early-stage entrepreneurs the opportunity to practice a 7-minute startup pitch to an audience of 20-30 people who will ask questions, offer feedback, and suggest connections that could help the entrepreneur. Typically the company presenting is beyond the idea or concept stage and is ready to introduce a clearly-defined product or service and get feedback on target markets, business models and other key areas. The general format of 1 Million Cups St. Louis makes this an ideal event for entrepreneurs to practice introducing their company, the problem they are solving, and ask the community for help or connections.

House of Genius

House of Genius is best described as “a focus group meets a mentoring session”. No matter the stage of your company, you’ll inevitably meet issues and challenges that require thinking through properly and House of Genius is the place to get different perspectives on those choices.

A meticulously curated audience of 15-20 people (who represent a cross-section of the business region as a whole) listen to a 5-minute pitch, which describes the problem or opportunity that the entrepreneur is contemplating. Unlike elevator or investor pitches, the House of Genius pitch ends with a specific question posed to the group. Questions typically focus on business strategy, marketing opportunities, market expansion.

Missouri Venture Forum Fast Pitch

Missouri Venture Forum (MVF) is a membership organization whose mission is to support entrepreneurs and grow new businesses. Every month, MVF hold breakfast meetings featuring networking and a guest speaker.

The mix of members at MVF works with startups, has friends and colleagues that invest, and can introduce your company to a broader audience in the region. It’s a great network to practice your pitch, seek advice and build awareness that your company is looking for funding.


The BALSA Grant

The BALSA Foundation’s mission is to promote social equity and prosperity in the St. Louis region by empowering first-time entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Open to anyone with a business idea, the nonprofit maintains a step-by-step online guide to starting a business, offers free mentorship and expert feedback, and provides pro bono professional services to first time entrepreneurs who need and will benefit from them the most.

Twice a year they offer a (non-dilutive) cash grant of at least $1,000, ($20,000+) to first time entrepreneurs, which includes in-kind professional services, business workshops, and one-on-one mentoring.

Holekamp Seed Fund

If you’re a WashU student, you can apply for $1,000 in seed funding for your startup, from the Holekamp Seed Fund. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just pocket change to get started, but that’s all you need to get started with your grand schemes.

Set up by Cliff Holekamp, one of the most prolific investors in the St. Louis region, this rainy-day fund rewards passion and purpose:

“Awards are directed to student applicants to defray the costs of becoming an entrepreneur… winners may use the funds for their personal financial burdens of being an entrepreneur. Applications won’t be judged on the potential long-term viability of the idea, but rather on how passionate the student is about pursuing the opportunity.”


Startup Connection

Startup Connection is St. Louis’ largest annual celebration of entrepreneurship. Typically held during Global Entrepreneurship Week, Startup Connection brings together the entire St. Louis startup community under one roof to celebrate promising early-stage companies and highlight the region’s entrepreneur support organizations.

Attracting over 1000 attendees every year, Startup Connection is a packed out event. Applying to be one of the 50 companies in display at the Venture Showcase will not only help you gain visibility and exposure but also puts you in the running for dozens of cash and in-kind prizes.

MDMC Startup Pitch Competition

Every year UMSL Accelerate’s Entrepreneur Club teams up with the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference (MDMC), the largest digital marketing conference in the Midwest, to invite digital marketing startups to compete for $3000 cash.

Frequently sponsored by huge digital media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, GoDaddy, BuzzFeed, Pandora and Ghostery, MDMC attracts digital marketing industry influencers from all over the USA, making MDMC’s Startup Pitch Competition an ideal place to put your digital marketing company on the map, find funding, get exposure, source partners, and garner market experience.


UMSL Accelerate's Entrepreneur Quest

A system-wide initiative from the University of Missouri, spanning MU, UMKC, Missouri S&T and UMSL, the Entrepreneur Quest program helps students translate their ideas into viable companies. The eight-week educational program includes lean-canvas workshops, mentoring, demo days, and coaching from local entrepreneurs to help students research and develop their companies and practice pitching their ideas.

Through UMSL Accelerate, university representatives and business leaders choose the most promising applicants to participate in the first EQ pitch competition at a city level, narrowing the field to a smaller group of semifinalists who go on to compete in a statewide competition. In round one, student entrepreneurs compete on home turf for $5,000 to $15,000 in prizes and the winners go on to the statewide competition to compete for an additional $5,000 to $15,000 in startup funding.

Pet Care Innovation Prize

The Pet Care Innovation Prize is a competition powered by Nestle Purina that recognizes early-stage pet care companies who either have products or services for sale. One grand prize winner will receive up to $20,000 in cash and support, with the potential to partner with Nestle Purina.

Up to five finalist companies will also receive $10,000 in cash and participate in an accelerator Boot Camp organized by venture capital firms and Purina, the pet care industry leader, concluding with a trip to pitch senior Nestle Purina executives, and exhibit at the world’s largest pet care industry trade show.


Washington University Competitions

The Skandalaris Center offers three primary venture competitions. The competition process provides startup founders with expert mentorship to prepare them for commercializing their idea and access to funding for the most promising ventures. The experience allows ideas to mature, entrepreneurs to learn, and new business networks to develop, through launching new products and pitching to investors.

Skandalaris Venture Competition

Up to $22,500 in awards available in the Skandalaris Venture Competition which is designed to support new venture creation among current Washington University students with an early-stage venture or idea.

Olin Business School’s BIG IdeaBounce

Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce is a 2-minute-video elevator pitch contest open to all WashU students. A panel of experienced judges and mentors provide all entrants with personalized feedback and coaching to perfect their elevator pitch to win $2,500 in prize money.

Global Impact Award

The Suren G. Dutia and Jas K. Grewal Global Impact Award invests up to $50,000 annually in individuals and high-growth entrepreneurial ventures that apply technology for developing for-profit/nonprofit solutions that spur economic growth and catalyze social change. The award is open to all Washington University in St. Louis students, postdoctoral researchers, and recent alumni who are creating ventures that are scalable, sustainable, and quick-to-market with proof of concept and a broad impact.


Arch Grants Global Startup Competition

The Arch Grants Global Startup Competition awards a total of $1,000,000 every year in $50,000 equity-free grant funding to twenty companies. The competition is open to startups all over the world and, aside from having a promising venture, the only condition to win is that 51% of the founding team relocates company operations to St. Louis for one year.

Entrants will need to pass two rounds to win: the initial written application, which often includes a video of the company in action and a pitch deck designed to be read; followed by a second round where you’ll be invited to St. Louis to give a pitch presentation in person. There you’ll be coached by previous Arch Grants recipients on how to win over the board of investors.

Arch Grants hosts a rare breed of startup competition as it awards equity-free funding and encourages applicants to re-apply in the following year if they were not successful the first time around. Winners can expect much more than cash too, as Arch Grants offers the utmost support to help founders connect to the captains of industry in St. Louis.



Founded in St. Louis, GlobalHack started out on a mission to build a better tech ecosystem through software competitions and demonstrate to entrepreneurs that the best way to create value starts by solving real-world problems. GlobalHack’s fabled, gigantic hackathon events bring together developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and technologists to build innovative software solutions that solve real-world problems.

Held every two years, the competition prize money varies depending on the hackathon theme and sponsors, but it has been known to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. St. Louis startups like TopOpps have launched entirely new products based on the amateur innovations from GlobalHack teams.

From developing commercial opportunities to improving government services or tackling immigration policies whatever global issues GlobalHack spotlights, you can expect a thrilling creative and technical challenge. With the NGA campus on the way and geospatial technology being hailed as “the new internet,” EQ is betting that GlobalHack’s eighth hackathon is going to be a doozy.