Applications for Startup Columbia 2024 are now closed. 

Startup Columbia is a series of campus-wide startup competitions offering non-dilutive cash prizes to the winning teams. Applications open in early January each year and are open to early-stage ventures founded, managed, and owned by current Columbia students, or by recent Columbia alumni (see each track for alumni eligibility details).

Each year, alumni judges evaluate competitors in each of the various competitions. All competitions have their own focus, save for the OPEN Competition, which is open to any kind of business model, including not-for-profit and social enterprises. As you will see in the Rules & Regulations, teams who wish to compete must choose to enter one competition only. Please note that the SIPA track is no longer accepting applications.


Columbia Venture Competition Rules and Regulations

Updated November 2023


Composition of Eligible Teams:

  • STARTUP COLUMBIA is intended for early-stage ventures founded, managed, and owned by current Columbia students or by Columbia alumni within 5 years of their most recent Columbia degree. These Competitions are not meant for mature ventures.
  • “Blended Teams”: Some teams founded by current Columbia students or Columbia alumni within 5 years of graduation may have a non-Columbia-affiliated co-founder. We will use the term “Blended Teams” to describe such applicants. To be eligible to compete and collect any awards, the founders of such Blended Teams must document the role all founders have had in the conception and development of the venture. To be eligible, such “Blended Teams” must have at least one current Columbia student or recent alumnus (within 5 years of graduation) who is a true founder who joined the team at the inception of the venture and has played a significant role in the company. The Columbia student or alumni founder should be the one to apply for the STARTUP COLUMBIA on behalf of the team. If there should be any question about this issue and/or if it is in dispute, the STARTUP COLUMBIA administrators’ rulings on eligibility will be final. To protect privacy, the outcomes of eligibility will not be shared beyond the impacted team.
  • In the application process, all team members are asked to state their university and school affiliation with graduation degree and year. STARTUP COLUMBIA administrators may also require proof of the length of time each founder has been engaged in their venture and may ask for access to the venture’s cap table. Refusal to provide this data will result in disqualification.
  • ** If the Administrators of any Competition within STARTUP COLUMBIA deem that a team has tried to circumvent the Rules & Regulations in any way, such teams will be disqualified. These Competitions are for real Columbia teams, with real Columbia founders. For example, any efforts to camouflage what are essentially non-Columbia teams as Columbia-founded teams (as has happened before unfortunately) will lead to immediate disqualification.

Amount of Dilutive Money Raised:

  • Teams that have raised $250K or more of dilutive investment are NOT eligible to apply for these Competitions.

Intellectual Property

  • Eligible applicants that are commercializing technologies or IP licensed from Columbia University are eligible to compete, but ownership of the IP must be clearly stated and documented in the application process.
  • For all applicants, ownership of intellectual property and equity splits in the business must not be in dispute.

Number of Competitions a Team May Apply For:

  • Teams may only enter one Competition per year. (See descriptions of each competition above)
  • Teams who have won or placed in the top three for any STARTUP COLUMBIA Competition in prior years may not enter the same Competition again with the same business. However, the same team can enter another Competition or enter with another completely distinct business. For example, a top-three team from the 2023 OPEN Competition may enter the 2024 Policy Competition with the same business or the 2024 OPEN Competition with a completely different business.

Lastly, certain Competitions further restrict the eligibility requirements for teams. It is up to the team to fully review all eligibility requirements before entering a particular Competition. Teams that enter a Competition for which they are not eligible may be disqualified or asked to join another Competition. Where possible and practical, disqualifications are not publicly announced.


  • Teams can apply to only one Competition. Applicant name can ONLY appear on one application to one track, multiple applications by the same applicant is not permitted.
  • If accepted into a Competition, each team will be contacted with their pitch schedule.
  • Unless otherwise announced, most pitches teams make will be held via Zoom, although most finals may be live and in person.
  • Once the judging is complete, three winners will be announced for each Competition (1st place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place). It is possible that two teams will tie for a given finishing place, in these cases, the award is split.
  • Winners will be announced shortly after the Finals.
  • To be eligible to receive any prize, you need to have an incorporated company and provide a W-8 or W-9. It may take a few months to process payment of the prize.
  • By competing in this competition, you agree to adhere to the rules and regulations outlined here with no exceptions. Submitting an application indicates willing participation under these rules.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

STARTUP COLUMBIA does not support non-disclosure agreements. Teams should be aware that STARTUP COLUMBIA administrators will not require judges to sign non-disclosure agreements. Participants’ executive summaries, videos, and pitch decks will only be seen by the STARTUP COLUMBIA administrators and the judging panel. Neither of those documents will be distributed more broadly unless explicit permission is received from the participating team. We advise that teams provide as much detail as possible without disclosing proprietary information or unprotected IP.