The Proving Ground: USC launches bold startup competition for students

By September 18, 2012 Teach IT


University of South Carolina students with big business ideas stand to win BIG money — $40,000 in cash and startup support — this fall in The Proving Ground, the university’s entrepreneurial challenge.

The business plan competition, in its third year, has gained momentum with increased student participation and sponsor support. This year’s $40,000 in prizes and startup support, up from $3,000 awarded in previous years, places USC among the top colleges that have business plan competitions.

“In only the third year of existence, The Proving Ground has become one of the biggest collegiate business plan competitions in the nation,” said Dean Kress, associate director of the Faber Entrepreneur Center in USC’s Darla Moore School of Business. “We’re anticipating 75 to 100 entries this year.”

It’s not just for business students either. The competition is open to all USC undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines, at all eight campuses. Designed to identify and accelerate innovative business ideas – and reward the students who come up with them – the competition is a proving ground for everything from new technologies discovered in the lab to business ideas brainstormed on the back of a napkin, Kress said.

Students have until Oct. 21 to submit their business concept. There’s no entry fee, and online information can be found at There students can ask questions, find additional information and have conversations about the competition.

Submissions will be evaluated and narrowed to nine finalists by a group of 15 experienced entrepreneurs in three categories: technology, innovation and social impact. Final teams will pitch their business concepts to a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank”-style competition in front of a live audience on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Registered participants will receive a copy of Live Plan, a cloud-based business planning solution from Palo Alto Software.

Prizes will include:

  • $15,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Prize for the best innovative technology idea for the marketplace;
  • $10,000 Innovista Innovation Prize for the most innovative approach to a business concept; and
  • $5,000 Maxient Social Impact Prize for the business plan best able to contribute or solve a social or environmental challenge.

Winning teams also will be invited into the USC Columbia Technology Incubator’s student program at no cost for six months. Located with other startups in the technology incubator, the winning teams will have office space and the resources to develop their ideas and launch their businesses. Additionally, they will receive professional guidance on intellectual property and licensing from the USC Office of Technology Commercialization and ongoing assessment, consultation and mentoring from the Center for Technology Innovation (CETi) and the USC Faber Entrepreneurship Center. All of the in-kind services are worth more than $10,000.

With the backing and collaboration of key sponsors, the competition aims to stimulate the entrepreneurial juices of the USC community.

“SCRA Technology Ventures, through its SC Launch Program, has been investing in innovation and advanced technology in South Carolina for many years,” said Bill Mahoney, CEO of SCRA. “We’re excited to work with the state’s next generation of knowledge economy entrepreneurs in partnership with the University of South Carolina.”

Students also will have the support to ensure their success.

“For students who may be working on a novel technology in the lab or have an innovative approach to addressing tough business, environment, social or other challenges, we want them to know the resources and support are here to help them get their concept to market,” said Don Herriott, director of Innovista Partnerships at USC.

The Proving Ground, presented by the Darla Moore School of Business, USC Innovista and CETi, is sponsored in part by USC’s Office of Technology Commercialization and the USC Columbia Technology Incubator, Maxient, Palo Alto Software, Spanish Vines, EngenuitySC, SCRA Technology Ventures, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and INDEXX.

For more information about the Proving Ground 2012, visit or email [email protected].



The Proving Ground partners:

The Faber Entrepreneurship Center was established in 1997 following a gift to the Darla Moore School of Business from Tim and Karen Faber, two University of South Carolina graduates and successful entrepreneurs – people with the ideas, the vision and the perseverance to launch the new businesses that form South Carolina’s economic bedrock. Its primary mission is to promote and support student entrepreneurship.


Innovista is a strategic economic development effort that is connecting the University of South Carolina and university-spawned innovations with entrepreneurs, businesses and stakeholders. Innovista’s purpose is to attract, create and grow technology-intensive, knowledge-based companies, resulting in higher paying jobs and substantial economic growth in the Midlands region. Innovista supports the continued renaissance of downtown Columbia as well as the continued growth of USC as a nationally recognized, comprehensive research university.

CETi, the Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation, is the University of South Carolina’s launchpad for early stage startups. CETi finds, educates, connects and accelerates early stage technology and innovation-based startups centered around the University of South Carolina and Columbia’s entrepreneurial community. CETi is an Innovista Partners Initiative, powered by the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator.

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