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Rules & Prizes

Revised by Howie Rhee and Bill Warren, September 18, 2015


  • The goal of this challenge is to encourage startups among the members of the Duke University community. 
Cash Prizes
    • In 2017-2018 the Grand Prize was removed.  Instead, individual alumni and supporters will be invited to make investments on the spot in the companies at Demo Day. 
    • Track Prizes
      • AARP Foundation Prize - $5,000
      • Duke Energy Initiative Prize - $10,000 (based on separate selection criteria)
      • Duke BME Prize - $10,000 (must be a startup with a student team leader from Duke BME) 
  • For students to be eligible for the prize money, they must be able to work full-time on their startup throughout the summer. They are not required to work from Durham, but we encourage teams to take full advantage of the Bullpen or American Underground. 


There are two challenges that run in parallel:

  • Student Challenge (winners selected, cash prizes)
  • Open Challenge: for Alumni / Faculty / Staff and Students with non-student ideas (winners selected, separate pool of cash prizes)

For the sake of simplicity, there is only one set of rules written. The rules below are written with students in mind, exceptions where noted.

Definition: "Duke Student": For the eligibility of cash prizes in the challenge, "Duke Student" is defined as Duke undergraduate, graduate, professional students. For the separate Open Challenge: alumni / faculty / staff / students match with non-student ideas, "Duke Student" the reader should substitute those words with "Duke Alumni / Faculty / Staff / Students matched with non-student originated ideas", which, starting in Fall 2013, includes Medical Residents and Postdocs.

  • We also realize that some programs at Duke end during the middle of the academic year, and some students graduate from their programs early. For those that have just graduated during this current academic year (September through April), they retain their eligibility until the final event of the academic year in which they entered the challenge.
  • We understand some students take a leave of absence from the university. As long as it has been less than a year that they have been out of school, and they remain in good standing, they are eligible to compete.

  1. Submissions may be entered by individuals or teams.  For the sake of this document, everyone will be referred to as "teams" or "participants".
  2. Each team must have at least one currently registered Duke Student, and ideally this student has originated the idea and/or is leading the team. Teams that do not meet this may be moved to the Open Challenge, where they will still received feedback, etc, but will not be eligible for the student prize pool.  
    1. The spirit of the student challenge is that Duke students both originate and lead the startup idea, and this will be considered by the judges and organizers. At a minimum, the Duke students should have stock or options granted to be significant equity holders (greater than 20%).  In the case that a team is not deemed to be within the spirit of this challenge, they may be disqualified or moved to the Open Challenge. This determination is at the sole discretion of the organizers.
      1. Example: A team from another university recruits a Duke student to be on the team is in a grey area.  If that student plays a significant role on the team (leading a significant function of the company and likely to stay with the team upon graduation), then it's likely that team will remain eligible for the Open Challenge. If the student does not play a significant role, the team will likely be disqualified. 
    2. Companies that exist prior to Duke student involvement, who merely recruit a student to become eligible for the challenge, are not eligible to compete for student prizes, but can participate in the Open Challenge. The Startup Challenge is an educational experience and teams not working towards this end may be disqualified (e.g. teams that have token students to meet eligibility requirements) or moved to the Open Challenge (particularly for teams whose ideas have originated by non-students). The Challenge organizers reserve the right to review companies on a case-by-case basis and make final determinations on eligibility accordingly. Teams that are unsure of their eligibility should contact the organizers.
      1. As of Fall 2013, teams that are matched with a startup idea/business in the course of a class, or with the primary working being done by a Duke faculty or staff member, where the idea is generated by a non-student, will be categorized as Open Challenge teams. 
      2. Example of a "non-student originated" team that might be ineligible for the "non-student originated" portion of the competition : A startup in Durham has been existence for a year and recruits a student to join the team with the purposes of entering the challenge. However, if the student plays a significant role on the team  (leading a significant function of the company and likely to stay with the team upon graduation) , then it's likely that the team will remain eligible for the "non-student originated portion of the competition." It should be noted that this student must pitch and answer questions at all events. If the student does not play a significant role, the team will likely be disqualified. 
      3. Example of a "non-student originated" that is probably eligible for the "non-student originated" portion of the challenge  A team of students is matched with a technology through a Duke University class and while they did not originate the idea, they are leading most aspects of its development, particularly in the development of a business plan / pitch deck / demo.  This team is eligible for competing "non-student originated" portion of the competition.
      4. The main goal is that the student competition is for ideas that were generated or originated by Duke students.  And the "non-student originated" portion of the challenge is for ideas that were not generated or originated by Duke students.
  3. "Pitching Team Members": Only the pitching team members can pitch or answer questions. Other team members/advisors in the room, cannot answer questions. All pitching team members must currently be Duke Students. You can have any number of people pitching, though it might be advantageous to limit it to a few.  
    1. For the Open Challenge, all pitchers must have a Duke tie.
  4. There is no fee for entry.
  5. Participants may compete on multiple teams.
  6. Concepts must be unique and different from all previous Duke Startup Challenge Winners
    1. For the challenge, business concepts and/or technologies cannot have formed the basis for a previous year’s Duke Startup Challenge Grand Prize Winner. 
  7. Eligible businesses/ideas must be in the preliminary stages of development
    1. The goal is to have participants be in the early stages of development, but allow some flexibility for the cash that may come in through early sales, their own personal or family funding, small amounts of seed capital from outside investors, or even modest amounts of funding that may have come with research grants. 
    2. The following guidelines should be met as of the entry deadline. Capital raised after the entry deadline should be reported, but the organizers reserve the right to allow teams to participate who raise capital after the entry deadline.
      1. Revenues
        1. Students: No businesses with cumulative (corporate lifetime) revenues of over $250,000 are allowed to participate.
        2. Open Challenge: The limit is $500,000
      2. Personal/Family/Friends Funding
        1. Students;  No businesses/ideas that have received funding greater than $250,000 can participate, including financing from your own personal funds, or from friends or family members, even funding that is given as a "gift". 
        2. Open Challenge: The limit is $500,000
      3. Outside Funding
        1. Students: No businesses/ideas that have received outside funding greater than $250,000 (i.e. sold equity or took a loan from anyone outside the team including institutional investors, angels, friends, and family).
        2. Open Challenge: The limit is $500,000
      4. Competition Funding
        1. Students:  No businesses/ideas that have received prize money greater than $250,000 from any set of other competitions/showcases/challenges. 
        2. Open Challenge: The limit is $500,000
      5. Research Funding
        1. Students:  For research-based ideas that have received grants to support the research and development (R&D) of the idea, the R&D dollars should not be greater than $1 million.  However, any money that came in through grants (or matching funds) to fund business formation counts towards the "Outside Funding" limit. Ideas based on academic research must also indicate the sources of support on their application forms, and within the body of their entry documents. 
        2. Open Challenge: The limit is $10,000,000
      6. Reporting: 
        1. Students;  Regardless of the purpose, teams that have already secured arrangements for capital from any source (including grants) in excess of $25,000 must disclose the amounts and sources clearly in their entries. 
        2. Open Challenge: The threshold for reporting is amount over $250,000
      7. Funds Received during the challenge
        1. Students: If a team receives funds for its idea in excess of $25,000 during the course of the challenge, it must be disclosed as soon as a commitment to make the investment is secured from the investor. Entrants that have generated cash while in the challenge in the form of sales revenues or contracts, research grants and personal or family funds are allowed, but must be disclosed. This information will be kept confidential. 
        2. Open Challenge: The reporting threshold is $250,000
    3. Student Examples: 
      1. Pushing the limits, but eligible
        1. A team may still be eligible if it has generated $249,000 in revenues, received $249,000 from friends and family, received $249,000 from an angel investor, received a total of $249,000 from a few other competitions, and received a grant for $200,000 towards R&D only.  
      2. Family gift, ineligible:
        1. A team that has received $250,000 from a family friend as a gift, is ineligible.
      3. Other competitions, eligible:
        1. A team that has competed in multiple competitions in previous years, can still be eligible, assuming that it's total winnings are not more than $50,000.
  8. Participants who are deemed to be "joke" or "fake" entries can be disqualified from the challenge. Additionally, participants who promote illegal, illicit, unethical, immoral, or activities which may be considered unworthy of association with the Duke Startup Challenge or Duke University may be disqualified. 
  9. If you are currently suing Duke University or have sued Duke University in the past, you are not eligible to participate in the Duke Startup Challenge. Exceptions can be made at the sole discretion of the organizers.
  10. If you are accused of committing a misdemeanor or felony during your time at Duke University or in your time since, you are not eligible to participate in the Duke Startup Challenge. Exceptions can be made at the sole discretion of the organizers.
  11. We reserve the right to make decisions, including disqualification and moving teams from one portion of the challenge, regarding any participant at any point during or in the following weeks after the challenge, if a rules violation has happened, or if we determine that your team does not fit within the spirit of the challenge or a particular portion of the challenge. Determinations are at the sole discretion of the competition organizers', and all decisions are final. 
  12. Participating as one of the organizers
    1. Current members of the organizing team, except for the lead co-presidents for the current academic year, and members of the judging committee, can compete in the Duke Startup Challenge.
    2. The lead co-presidents for the year and judging committee cannot receive cash prizes, in the academic year in which they are participating and organizing.
Honor Code
  • All participants and organizers are subject to the Duke University Honor Code, as well as, honor codes and regulations of their individual schools.
  1. Confidentiality is not guaranteed in any way.  Do not include confidential material in your submissions.  We take care with your private materials and generally, we only make them available to the judges and organizers. While we suggest to the judges and organizers that they do not share your materials, we have no way to enforce this. The organizing committee will not arbitrate any disputes over judges’ or organizers' handling of entries. 
  2. If you are planning to file patent protection on an aspect of your business, you should realize that entry into the Duke Startup Challenge may be construed as a public disclosure. You should consult with an IP Attorney before entering.
  3. Intra-team confidentiality is the sole responsibility of team members and we will not arbitrate any disputes that arise during the challenge.
  4. Teams will be required to submit a brief statement of their idea to be used for public relations purposes. The content may be as general or specific as a team desires but, it should be considered public knowledge and will be a required part of participating in the challenge.
  5. You are free to exclude any material you feel is truly proprietary and at risk of disclosure.


  1. As of 2015-2016 Tracks have been removed as a means for selecting teams.  They still remain in the application as a way of organizing the teams, but are not used by judges. All teams are judged by the same pool of judges. 
  2. There are three types of tracks, Functional, Special-Interest, and Pilot
    1. Functional Tracks
        1. Clean Energy
        2. IT, Internet & Media 
        3. Healthcare & Life Sciences 
        4. Social Enterprises 
        5. Other Products & Services (serves as a miscellaneous category) 
      1. Teams can participate in one, and only one, Functional track
      2. We reserve the right to re-categorize you into a different functional track should we determine, at our sole discretion, that your team is a better fit for another track.  
    2. Special-Interest Tracks
      1. These serve to promote submissions in special populations in the Duke community
      2. Teams may also participate in one or both of the Special Interest tracks if they are eligible
        1. Women-led Startups
          1. The team must be led by a woman that is a Duke student. 
          2. The pitch must be delivered by a female Duke student in all tracks the team competes in. 
          3. The woman members must have a significant role in the team
          4. Teams that recruit people primarily to fulfill track requirements will be disqualified
        2. Undergraduate-led Startups
          1. The team must be led by an undergraduate Duke student. 
          2. The pitch must be delivered by the Duke undergraduate student in all tracks the team participates in
          3. The undergraduates must have a significant role in the team
          4. Teams that recruit people primarily to fulfill track requirements will be disqualified
        3. Examples of eligibility: 
          1. A team led by an undergraduate woman is eligible to participate in up to three tracks: one functional track, Women Entrepreneurs track, and Undergraduate Entrepreneurs track 
          2. A team led by an undergraduate man is eligible to compete in up to two tracks: one functional track and the Undergraduate Entrepreneurs track 
          3. A team led by a graduate woman is eligible to participate in up to two tracks: one functional track and the Women Entrepreneurs track 
    3. Pilot Tracks
      1. Pilot tracks are intended to be experimental tracks to test a concept.  If the test is successful, the track may become a regular track in future challenges. 
  3. All team members who pitch must satisfy all track requirements. The same people pitching should pitch in all tracks and events.
    1. Example: A team is participating in the Women Entrepreneurs Track and in the Healthcare and Life Sciences Track.
    2. All of the pitchers in each track must be women. 
    3. Example: A team participates in the Women Entrepreneurs, Undergraduate and Products and Services tracks. All of the pitchers for each track must be women and undergraduates. 
    4. Example: A team participates in the Undergraduate and IT and Media tracks. All of the pitchers for each track must be undergraduates.
  4. All pitching team members ("pitchers") must qualify for all Special Interest Tracks you entered (Women-led and/or Undergrad-led).  In other words, you can't qualify for Women-led just because one of the two pitchers is a woman. And you can't qualify for Undergrad-led because one of the two pitchers is an undergrad
    1. Exception: If someone can't pitch due to illness, class, or a job interview, then we'll consider making an exception.  But then, they can only be replaced by another team member that qualifies for all the Special Interest Tracks (In other words, can't replace a woman with a man, can't replace an undergrad with a grad)
  5. Tracks Splitting and Merging
    1. At the sole discretion of the organizers, if a track has too few qualified and viable competitors (e.g. less than 10), the track may be cancelled or merged with another track.  (e.g. the IT, Internet & Media Track has 4 teams, and is merged with the Other Products & Services track, with only 1 winner being selected from the combined track).
      1. If prize money is involved, the two tracks prizes will be combined and given to the 1 winner.
    2. Additionally, if a track has too many competitors (greater than 20), it may be split into multiple tracks with winners being selected from each track. (e.g. the IT, Internet & Media Track has 40 teams, and is split into two tracks of 20 teams each, with 1 winners selected from each track).
      1. If prize money is involved, each track winner will receive half the prize money.

Competition Process
 Round # of Teams      Deliverable 
 1 ~100  - Idea Summary (document).  See template

Judges will assign a 1-7 score in several categories based on the information provided in each teams idea summary. Teams with the highest scores are advanced to Round 2. 
 2  ~30
- Private info
  - Pitch Deck (powerpoint) and/or revised and expanded Business Plan
    - Blog about pitch decks - http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html
    - Sample Business Plans - http://sites.google.com/site/dukestartupchallengeorg/resources
  - Answers to Eligibility Questions - https://docs.google.com/forms/d/19KjwUv1V0V0nFMcvhBm0sLBAxN-UaFq2lenBmiLmGtY/viewform

- Public info
  - Video of Investor Pitch or Demo (Up to 15 minutes) - See these examples from last year: http://sites.google.com/site/dukestartupchallengeorg/2011-2012/Round-2
  - Profile on Indiegogo (with Video embedded)

Judges will look at Round 2 materials to select which teams will receive a $5,000 stipend for the summer program. Any team that raises $5,000+ on Indiegogo is eligible to participate in the summer program and the Demo Day, but will not receive the $5,000 stipend. 

Demo Day   ~15 teams

- Live pitches
- Award of summer stipends

 3 - Summer  - Work on your startups during the summer
 Demo Day Event  - Awarding of prizes

  1. Round 1
    1. Overview
      1. Entrants must submit an idea summary (see 2 below)
      2. Judges will look at each team's idea summary and decide if they move to the next round.
    2. Writing the Idea Summary
      1. The goal of this round is to provide an easy access point for participants to put their idea on paper in a relatively straightforward document. Ideally the document does not take much time, but does a good job of describing the idea. Theoretically, a team should be able to come up with an idea a few days before the deadline, and write down enough of their idea to present a compelling case. 
      2. We require you to answer the questions provided here in this template. We provide guidance to all judges that they should not expect to see every single part of an "Idea Summary." That being said, some judges will want/expect this anyway. Therefore, using an Idea Summary as a guiding format may be most beneficial to the team. Some other samples and helpful articles can be found here (though it should be noted that the samples were from our previous years' 2 page limit)
      3. Length: The entry can be between 1 to 15 pages. We understand that some teams may have materials that are slightly longer but to keep a somewhat even playing field, entries longer than 15 pages will either be cut off or will not be judged, as determined by the sole discretion of the organizers.
      4. Cover page: A cover page counts as part of the page limit (i.e. 15 pages of content and a cover page count as 15 pages). 
      5. Graphics: Photos/pictures can be used in the body of the document and are welcome and encouraged. 
      6. Others: Having a demonstration product, powerpoint, or video online is welcome and encouraged. We encourage you to include a reference to those materials within the body of your document. 
      7. Public: Should your team advance to Round 2, your idea summary will be posted on a page on our website, as in this Round 2 example. You will have the opportunity to revise it, should you wish.
    3. Submitting the Entry
      1. iStart: By the deadline for this challenge, each team must submit an Idea Summary (8.5” x 11”) document via iStart.
      2. Submission: Only one team member needs to submit the Idea Summary via iStart; you do not need multiple team members submitting the same entry.  
      3. Tracks: Each team can enter one, and only one, Functional Track. In addition, a team can qualify for any Special Interest or Pilot Tracks for which they meet the requirements.
      4. Saving: Please title your document "TeamName.docx".  Microsoft Word format is preferred, but PDF is also accepted. 
    4. Judging Process
      1. After receiving the Idea Summaries, several dozen judges will review the documents and provide scores. Between 3 and 50 judges will review each submission. Judging takes a lot of time, and some judges provide feedback for each team.  If we receive feedback, we will provide that feedback to you through iStart.
  2. Round 2
    1. Overview
      1. Up to 30 teams (and possibly more) will be invited to: 
        1. Submit an expanded document (private)
        2. Record and post an investor pitch on YouTube (public)
        3. Revise their Idea Summary for public posting (public)
        4. Create and Indiegogo campaign 
      2. We will take your public information including your idea summary and post them on a page on our website. By participating in the Duke Startup Challenge, you are giving us permission to post your video and your idea summary answers.  See this Round 2 public page sample
      3. All materials for this round should be submitted before the second round deadline
      4. Judges will look at all of the information to determine
        1. The winner and runner-up for each track
        2. The top ~10 overall teams (who will be considered for participation in the Demo Day).  
    2. Writing and Submitting an Expanded Document (Private) -- 3 Options
      1. Option 1: Submit a Business Plan
        1. Length: A written document from 10 to 35 pages (8.5” x 11”), including the cover page, executive summary, exhibits, financials, and appendices. The goal of the 10 to 35 page entry is to make the requirement low enough that competitors with a totally new idea can complete the document within a reasonable amount of time, but large enough that competitors with existing materials do not need to spend a lot of energy reducing their material just to fit within the competition guidelines.  Our estimation is that this range is sufficiently fair that judges can compare the two without automatically being biased towards one or the other. Entries longer than this will be cut off by the organizers, or not judged at all. 
        2. It should be noted that some judges have a bias against business plans, while some have a bias for business plans.  
        3. Some samples and helpful articles can be found here
      2. Option 2: Submit an Investor Pitch Deck (preferred) 
        1. Type: The pitch deck is usually done in Powerpoint (or PDF), but can also be done in other formats.  Make sure it's a format you think the judges will be able to read, we make no guarantees that they'll have the software necessary to read your pitch. Prezi is fine - submit a simple pitch deck with a link to your Prezi.
        2. Length: There is no limit to the number of slides, though 10-30 is the norm.
        3. In recent years, some entrepreneurs, particularly in the IT, Internet & Media space, have effectively used pitch decks as their sole document for going to market and/or raising money, and many investors are used to seeing pitch decks as the main document. 
        4. Some samples and helpful articles can be found here
      3. Option 3: Both a business plan and an investor pitch deck.
        1. If interested, you can create and submit both documents.
      4. While we do not guarantee confidentiality in any way, we intend to only share the expanded documents with the judges.
    3. Recording and Posting an Investor Pitch or Demo on YouTube (public)
      1. In addition to the expanded document(s), the judges will have access to an Investor Pitch or Demo that you create and post on YouTube.
      2. Length: Up to fifteen minutes long
      3. Editing: You can edit the video as much as you like but note that no technical support will be provided.  
        1. Easy: A person talking at the camera 
        2. Medium: A person talking and showing the slides on screen
        3. Advanced: Animations that display the concepts, High Production Values, lots of cuts
          1. Example: Jellyfish Art on Kickstarter (Duke alum Alex Andon)
          2. Example: Nanoly video from Duke Startup Challenge Spring 2012
      4. Production:
        1. You can do the production by yourself or you can enlist help from whatever source you find.
        2. For on-campus help, take a look at Duke's Multimedia Project Studios. This is an amazing resource and should be seriously considered.
        3. You can rent video cameras at The Link
      5. Content: Teams should assume that some judges will have read the materials beforehand, and some will not. The video can use props, video clips, animations, audio tracks, demonstrations, actors, etc.
      6. Eligibility: The video is considered a "pitch" and therefore all members who present, narrate, or voiceover the video must be eligible per the eligibility rules found above. They must be Duke students (as defined above). And it should be noted that Special Interest Track competitors must adhere to the special qualifications for their track in all pitches and all rounds.   
        1. "Potential customers" can appear in the video, as long as they are not a part of your startup. The point of this addition is, if you have potential customers who can express the need for what you are offering, you are allowed to show them.
        2. Exceptions can be made at the sole discretion of the Duke Startup Challenge. The purpose of these rules is to prevent non-Duke founded teams from just recruiting a Duke student for the purposes of eligibility, but doing all the hard work themselves.
      7. Good advice on your presentation
        1. Ryan Spoon '03, Polaris Ventures, "How to Create an Early Stage Pitch Deck"
        2. Venture Hacks tips on your presentation
    4. Idea Summary Posted Online (public)
      1. The Idea Summaries will also be posted online.  The goal is to provide each team a public written representation in addition to the video.  
      2. Revising your Idea Summary: Teams who want to revise their summary (e.g. to remove sensitive information) should do so and resubmit the document with their other Round 2 materials. 
      3. We will copy and paste the Idea Summary onto the web page. While we will do our best to keep the document layout and pictures in the same order, we cannot guarantee that it will look the way you intended.  Also, the standard fonts will be used for all text, so any custom fonts will be lost.  
    5. Indiegogo Campaign
      1. Teams are encouraged to develop a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com to attempt to raise $5,000.00 or more to support their startup.
      2. Crowdfunding campaigns should comply with all applicable rules for campaigns on those sites, all applicable Duke Startup Challenge rules, and state and federal laws. 
    6. Round 2 Judging
      1. Determining Winners: Judging is done virtually and in person.  Each team has a randomly assigned number of judges.  In addition, a selection committee will review the results and make the final selection of Round 2 winners.
  3. Round 3 
    1. Round 3 Pool: The teams in the pool are candidates to make it to Round 3 and are NOT guaranteed admittance into Round 3. The Round 3 Pool is made up of: 
        1. Round 2 teams that score highest from the Round 2 judges (preferred method)
        2. Round 2 teams that raises over $5,000 via Indiegogo (self-funding method)
        3. Other teams (in or out of the Duke Startup Challenge) that are run by Duke students that have raised money since the beginning of the competition from outside investors (like Dorm Room Fund invests $20,000, or the Duke Angel Network, or Innovation Jam), or have won another university competition (like ACC Inventure Prize, or an NC IDEA grant), or have been accepted into a startup accelerator program (like Y Combinator or 500 Startups). 
      1. Round 3 Finalist Selection: After the Round 3 pool is determined, we use a selection committee to determine the Round 3 teams that will advance to the Summer and receive the stipend.  This selection committee is made up of several Duke alumni who choose the teams that should receive the stipend.  They can use their sole discretion to choose teams, even if those teams were highly rated by the judges, or if those teams raised $5,000 on Indiegogo.
      2. Teams that receive money from other programs to fund their startup or fund their summer will not receive additional money from the Duke Startup Challenge. In other words, teams can't "double dip" from both the Duke Startup Challenge and another program. 
  4. Demo Day Event
    1. Overview
      1. The Demo Day event serves as both a showcase for some of the top teams in the Duke Startup Challenge as well as a mechanism for determining the winning team
      2. .After the second round, there will be a Round 3 pool of finalist teams, based on the scores and the Indiegogo campaigns (approximately Top 10).  
        1. As of 2017-2018 there is no Grand Prize 
    2. Selection
      1. Determining the Demo Day Teams: During the summer, the selection committee will examine and determine the top teams of the whole challenge.  At the end of the summer, the top teams will be considered for pitching at Demo Day.  There is no set limit on the number of teams that are eligible, but it's generally in the range of 3 to 8 teams (e.g. it could be 3 teams one year and 7 teams another year). 
    3. If students are based outside of Durham for their program, they are allowed to pitch from remote locations. We cannot guarantee the technical requirements surrounding the pitch will work, but we have successfully pitched via Skype, WebEx, etc... Team pitches from remote locations must be live, not pre-recorded.  
    4. Missing your time slot: For teams that miss their time slot for any reason (technical problems, conflicting event, traffic, etc...) they will not be allowed to pitch at a later time in the event. Exceptions are at the sole discretion of the organizers.

Inventions developed by Duke University faculty and staff:
  • Participants who join teams working on technologies owned by Duke University may be asked to sign additional confidentiality agreements agreeing to take reasonable care to avoid disclosing confidential information related to their projects.  Any questions related to technologies owned by Duke University should be directed to the Office of Licensing and Ventures (OLV).  If the research is developed using Duke resources (including University time, funds and/or facilities), we encourage disclosure of intellectual property to OLV as soon as possible. 
  • If a company is successfully launched under the Duke Startup Challenge, the team members may approach OLV with a proposal for licensing the Duke inventions. However, OLV is not obligated to enter into any business relationships with the new company. 
  • OLV is available as a resource to Duke students involved in the Startup Challenge. If there are questions about the licensing process, intellectual property protection and/or general questions about commercialization of research-based technologies, please contact OLV. However, OLV will not disclose specific information on any particular licensing deal.

Prize Distribution

If a team wins $10,000 or more from the Duke Startup Challenge, the team members agree to incorporate or form a business association (e.g. Corp., Inc., LLC, LLP, etc.) with ownership interests divided according to a capitalization table submitted as part of the registration process in the later parts of the competition. Subsequently, the organizing committee will award winnings payable to this specific business entity; after which it is the responsibility of the business to determine how the prize money is utilized. Team members will be required to appoint one of its members to be the Business Association’s official representative (“Representative”). On behalf of the Business Association, and in the absence of a dispute, the Representative will receive any and all monetary prizes awarded to the team resulting from the competition.

Any teams wishing to have individuals compensated directly rather than through an incorporated legal entity will be subject to the approval of the Duke Startup Challenge organizing committee and one or more University administrators. To be paid directly, a student must have a taxpayer identification number, and be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or have the necessary visa status to join the Duke payroll to receive prize money distributions.

Duke University and the Duke Startup Challenge will not receive equity stakes in the participating companies simply as a result of award in the competition. Prize money awards do not create an ownership interest in the companies for either Duke University or the Duke Startup Challenge. If a company participating in the challenge decides to pursue commercial development of intellectual property rights owned by Duke, however, the team should consult with the Office of Licensing and Ventures (OLV).

It should be noted that in some cases, Duke University is required to withhold the taxes for the prize money.  In those cases, the prize recipient will only receive the after-tax money associated with the prizes.

To receive prize money, teams must provide the appropriate information required by Duke University for tax purposes which may include Federal Employer ID Number (FEIN) or Social Security number of the individuals receiving money, permanent mailing address.  If required by law, Duke University may send a tax statement to the team/individual that has received the prize money. 



  • The Duke Startup Challenge competition and its organizers assume no responsibility to ensure the confidentiality of any information disclosed during the competition. 

Clean Energy Track winner - Eligible for spot in the $100,000 ACC Clean Energy Challenge

- The ACC Clean Energy Challenge is a separate competition funded by the Department of Energy. Information on the ACC Clean Energy Challenge is at http://www.mtech.umd.edu/accnrg/. Duke University has the opportunity to send one team to the ACC Clean Energy Challenge. In order to be eligible for this competition, you must compete in the DSC Clean Energy Track (unless you are ineligible to compete in the DSC in which case you will still pitch at the challenge but will not qualify for any DSC prizes) and be eligible for the ACC Challenge (see rules).

- Process:
1) Entry: All teams interested in the ACC Challenge must fill out the DSC competition requirements and pitch in the Clean Energy Track. There are no exceptions. Teams ineligible to participate in the DSC, notably previous grand prize winners, are still required to pitch: they will receive a bye and will pitch in the second round. The only difference between teams ineligible to participate and those teams eligible to participate in DSC is that the former is not eligible for the DSC grand prize.

2) Round 1: All teams in the DSC Clean Energy Track will participate in Round 1. Only those teams that advance to Round 2 will continue to be eligible for the ACC Challenge.Those teams that do not qualify for Round 2 will no longer be considered for the ACC Clean Energy Challenge.

3) Round 2: All teams who advance to Round 2 of the DSC Clean Energy Track those that received a bye will be eligible for the ACC Challenge. The judges at the Clean Energy Final will then have two tasks:
  • Select the winner of the DSC Clean Energy Track. 
  • Select the team to send to the ACC Energy Challenge.
The judges will score all teams pitching in the Clean Energy Track Round 2 and create a forced ranking from the sum of the scores. Then the forced ranking will be filtered for the DSC and the ACC to determine the task-specific winners. Duke uses the standard DSC Judging process for determining the winner of the ACC Challenge. In most cases the winner of the DSC rankings and the winner of the ACC rankings will be the same team, but there is a possibility that they will be different winners. See three possible scenarios below:

Definitions of Teams used in the following examples:
  • Team A (both) qualifies for the DSC and the ACC (I.e. Fills the eligibility requirements for both competitions)
  • Team B (DSC only) qualifies for the DSC but not the ACC (Ex. Team does not have 50% of its formal team members attending U.S. universities and colleges.)
    • Example: SampleTeam is composed of one Duke student and two non-Duke students.  Under the rules of the DSC, the team is eligible for the DSC.  But under the rules of the ACC, the team is not eligible because ACC teams must be 50% owned by current students.
  • Team C (ACC only) does not qualify for the DSC but does qualify for the ACC (Ex. Team is a previous DSC Grand Prize Winners.)
    • Example: HyTower won the Duke Startup Challenge Grand Prize in 2011, so they are not eligible to win the Duke Startup Challenge again, but they are eligible to compete in the ACC.
  • Team D (both), just like Team A, qualifies for the DSC and the ACC.  In the following scenarios, Team D is always the worst team.

Scenario 1)   First Place Team from combined pool qualifies for DSC and ACC: If the winning team of the DSC Clean Energy Track qualifies for the ACC Clean Energy Challenge, then that team will advance.  In case that team chooses, for whatever reason, not to compete in the ACC Clean Energy Challenge, the next highest scoring team for the ACC pool will advance to the ACC Finals.

After the judging the forced ranking for the combined pool is
  1. Team A (both) 
  2. Team B (DSC only)
  3. Team C (ACC only)
  4. Team D (both) 

DSC forced ranking for the DSC pool is:
  1. Team A (both)  - will compete in the DSC Finals
  2. Team B (DSC only)
  3. Team D (both) 
ACC forced ranking for the ACC pool is:
  1. Team A (both)  - will compete in the ACC Finals
  2. Team C (ACC only)
  3. Team D (both) 

Scenario 2) First Place Team from combined pool qualifies for DSC, but not for ACC: The winner of the Clean Energy Track may not qualify for the ACC Energy Challenge (example: the ACC rules for "student ownership" are stricter than the DSC rules).  In this case, the top team from the ACC pool will advance to the ACC Finals.

After the judging the forced ranking for the combined pool is
  1. Team B (DSC only)
  2. Team C (ACC only)
  3. Team A (both) 
  4. Team D (both) 
DSC forced ranking for the DSC pool is:
  1. Team B (DSC only)  - will compete in the DSC Finals
  2. Team A (both) 
  3. Team D (both)
ACC forced ranking for the ACC pool is:
  1. Team C  (ACC only) - will compete in the ACC Finals
  2. Team A (both) 
  3. Team D (both) 

Scenario 3)   First Place Team from combined pool does not qualify for the DSC, but does qualify for the ACC: A "previous DSC winner" competes for the ACC Energy Challenge spot and beats out the current year Clean Energy Track winner. In this case, the top team from the ACC pool will advance to the ACC Finals.  And the top team from the DSC pool will advance to the DSC Finals

After the judging the forced ranking for the combined pool is
  1. Team C (ACC only)
  2. Team A (both) 
  3. Team D (both) 
  4. Team B (DSC only)
DSC forced ranking for the DSC pool is:
  1. Team A (both) - will compete in the DSC Finals
  2. Team D (both)  
  3. Team B (DSC only)
ACC forced ranking for the ACC pool is:
  1. Team C (ACC only) - will compete in the ACC Finals
  2. Team A (both)
  3. Team D (both) 
**In case a team decides not to advance, for whatever reason, to either competition or challenge, the next highest team that qualifies for the competition will automatically advance. The right to advance is not transferrable by the team to be given to another team. 

**In the case of a dispute or any other discrepancy that causes the results to be in question, the DSC Leadership, along with the Clean Energy Track judges and/or the ACC Clean Energy administrators, retains the right to determine the teams that advance to the Finals for each competition or challenge (pending acceptance from the ACC Clean Energy competition).  The goal of this system is to optimally select teams that qualify for each competition or challenge, while minimizing the duplication of effort for teams.