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Columbia Business Monthly

Students, Young Alumni Invited To Enter Big Ideas in The Proving Ground

Nov 03, 2017 07:36AM ● By Emily Stevenson

Alex Smolen, founder ofVuepeer, a peer-to-peer travel rentals portal, and a $20,000 winner in the 2015 Proving Ground competition.

The Proving Ground startup competition at the University of South Carolina is gearing up for another year of big ideas as students and young alumni compete for cash prizes and startup support.

This year’s “Shark Tank-style” competition kicked off Nov. 1 with the finale set for March 29, 2018, giving competitors more time to shape their idea and ready their business plan.

Business concepts must be submitted by Feb. 23. In its eighth year, The Proving Ground has awarded more than $250,000 in prizes, with numerous winners going on to successfully launch businesses and services.

2015 victor Ian Mackintosh knows the value of competing. He used his winnings and startup support from The Proving Ground to develop further his concept for a customizable table top bottle cooler. Brevino will go to market in December and already has received significant interest from brewers in the region.

“Taking an idea from concept and working to put it into the marketplace is full of challenges and obstacles,” said Mackintosh, a law and master of international business (IMBA) graduate. “Entering The Proving Ground competition provides guidance on how to turn an idea into a business with a path to monetization. If you are able to win, you remove one of biggest obstacles to success, startup capital, and are that much closer to starting a successful business."

Here’s the breakdown on prizes and categories for the 2018 competition:

  • $17,500 Maxient Innovation Prize is awarded to the undergraduate student or team with the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need or problem. Second place is $5,000.
  • $17,500 Avenir Discovery Prize is awarded to the undergraduate student, graduate student or young alumna/us (graduate from May 2012 to the present) for the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need or problem. Second place is $5,000.
  • $5,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize is chosen by the audience at the finale event. Second place is $2,500.

While organized by the Darla Moore School of Business’ Faber Entrepreneurship Center, the competition is open to students in all majors. To help competitors have the best chance of winning, registrants are given access to LivePlan, a cloud-based business plan software, and support from the Small Business Development Center.

“Our goal is to encourage innovation and grow entrepreneurs. That begins with an idea and then a developed business model, says Dean Kress, director of the Faber Entrepreneurship Center. “This year, we’re giving more time and support up front to ensure competitors have the best chance of winning The Proving Ground and ultimately, winning in the marketplace.”

The Proving Ground is a three-round, points-based competition that culminates in a finale, when six finalists make their ultimate pitch to the judges in front of a live audience. Much like the popular ABC-TV show, “Shark Tank,” the event is fast-paced with judges pulling no punches in the questions they ask competitors.

Registration is online at