“We’ve had 13,000 entrepreneurs go through The Minnesota Cup process,” said John Stavig, program director for the Carlson School of Management’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship. “We’ve given out now 2.5 million dollars in cash prizes –no equity, no strings. Those companies have since gone on to raise 300 million dollars.”

The Minnesota Cup offers more than $450,000 in available seed money, mentorship opportunities with Minnesota industry leaders and remains a completely free resource to those who compete. These are just a few of the reasons why we’ve selected the Minnesota Cup as our number two pick for our Resource Wish-List for Entrepreneurs.

What is the MN Cup and How Does it Work?

MN Cup is the largest statewide startup competition in the country. It also doubles as a business hub, connecting Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Emerging entrepreneurs are supported through events, educational programming and an annual startup competition that provides them with tools, resources and support to launch and accelerate the development of new ventures.

“It’s very much a community-led program,” Stavig explained. MN Cup partners with local sponsors and businesses, like Wells Fargo and General Mills, to provide everything from award funding to industry workshops for the competing companies. “Every dollar given on the sponsorship level,” he said, “goes to the most promising startups in the state.”

The Competition

The annual new venture competition is open to Minnesota entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors. If your in-state small business has less than one million in annual revenue, then you’re eligible to apply!

Entrepreneurs can choose from one of these eight categories:

  • Energy/ Clean Tech/ Water
  • Food/ Agriculture/ Beverage
  • General
  • High Tech
  • Life Science/ Health IT
  • Impact Ventures
  • Student (current undergrad and graduate students)
  • Youth (18 and younger)

Applications open in late March and are due by the end of April. In June, 10 semi-finalists are selected from each of the eight divisions and then undergo three separate rounds of competition. During this time, the top 80 selected startups are then paired with MN Cup mentors and may attend entrepreneurial sessions, classes and networking events.

The judges for the competition are all industry leaders so, just by participating, competitors receive exposure. “We have over 220 judges that really help provide valuable connections for all these startup companies,” Stavig said.

Why Enter?

Besides a chance to win the big cash prize, the additional benefits that come with the MN Cup experience reaffirm the classic adage that ‘winning isn’t everything.’

“This year we gave out $452,000 in cash prices,” Stavig said. “And that’s nice for these companies to get started, but the real value lies in the connection to the resources they get.” MN Cup competitors can also expect to receive:

  • Exclusive event access
  • Business plan feedback
  • Networking opportunities with potential investors
  • Media exposure


The Minnesota Cup puts on an event every year to recognize and promote the top 24 startups from the pool of that year’s contestants. “It’s a way for [the startups] to get noticed,” said Stavig. “A lot of companies come through [MN Cup] to get on the radar of the top talent in Minnesota and to be seen as one of the top startups to help build their awareness.”

Winners from past years span all industries. Many of these companies have also participated in the SciTech program, adding interns to their successfully growing teams.

Did We Mention, It’s FREE!

“One thing we will never change,” Stavig assured the group, “is that this is a completely free resource for the entrepreneur.

What’s in Store for 2018?

The Minnesota Cup is an annual competition with applications opening at the end of March 2018. Anyone who meets the previously listed requirements may enter. MN Cup is especially eager to welcome more women-owned and minority-owned startups to the competition. Past applicants are also encouraged to enter again.

Interested entrepreneurs can sign up for a distribution list to receive notifications for upcoming opportunities by emailing support@breakthroughideas.org.