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The Proving Ground to offer record prizes

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Staff Report
Published Sept. 22, 2015

The University of South Carolina’s startup competition – The Proving Ground – is back for its fifth season next month with record prize money.

Since its launch in 2010, prize money offer in the collegiate business plan competition has grown to $89,000 from $3,000.

proving ground event
A presentation during last year’s Proving Ground event. (Photo/Provided)
Dean Kress, associate director of the Faber Entrepreneurship Center at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, attributes the competition’s success and profile of the event to sponsors who believe in fostering entrepreneurship.

“There’s no question – the support of our sponsors has been phenomenal,” Kress said. “Candice and Aaron Hark at Maxient, Nancy Grden of Avenir – all of whom are alumni – have been driving forces for The Proving Ground. And, the whole team at Fluor has helped us get to our current levels of awards. We are happy to have the support of a new sponsor, Grow Financial, which not only is supporting our second place prizes but is providing a free business account for our winners.”

The 2015 event is open to students and recent alumni – those who have graduated since 2010 – from the university’s eight campuses. A new twist for this year’s event will be awarding prizes for those who finish in second place.

Participants have until Oct. 23 to submit their business concept. Judges will look for ideas – big or small – that are innovative and scalable and that have commercial viability.

“We are providing more support for our entrants, including access to LivePlan, a cloud-based business plan software, support from the Small Business Development Center, and an ‘idea evaluation’ session that will give entrants and potential entrants the opportunity to bounce their ideas off experienced entrepreneurs to get their feedback,” Kress said.

After the Oct. 23 deadline, The Proving Ground becomes a three-round, points-based competition that culminates with eight finalists making their big pitch Nov. 17 in a live event before judges and an audience. Each year the competition has outgrown its space. This year’s finale will take place in the 500-seat W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Moore School with participants sharing the stage with judges much like the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank.”

The event’s categories and prizes are:

▪ $20,000 Maxient Innovation Prize for the most innovative business concept that addresses an unmet need or solves an existing problem. Undergraduate students are eligible. Second place is $2,500.

▪ $20,000 Avenir Discovery Prize for the most innovative business concept that addresses an unmet need or solves an existing problem. Graduate and undergraduate students and recent alumni are eligible. Second place is $2,500.

▪ $17,500 Fluor Social Impact Prize for the business plan best able to contribute or solve a social or environmental challenge. Graduate and undergraduate students and recent alumni are eligible. Second place is $2,500.

▪ $3,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize chosen by the audience. Second place is $1,000.

All of the winners will be awarded an affiliate membership in the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, with support services valued at $5,000 each.

Judging of business concepts will be based on:

• A product or service that solves a problem;

• A clearly defined market of potential clients who would be willing to pay for the product or service;

• A clear advantage over competitors;

• Demonstrate capacity for the team to bring the product or service to market;

• Show how the venture will be profitable; and

• In the Fluor Social Impact category, how the venture will address a social and/or environmental problem.

Each year The Proving Ground has attracted students from a variety of disciplines, ranging from business, engineering and the sciences to media arts and the social sciences.

Some winners have launched businesses while others pursued different opportunities than the concept they entered, Kress said.

The 2015 competition is presented by the university's Faber Entrepreneurship Center and the Office of Economic Engagement and EngenuitySC.

The Proving Ground 2015 partners

Platinum sponsors – Maxient, Avenir LLC, Fluor

Gold sponsors – SCRA Technology Ventures, Grow Financial

Silver sponsors – USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, Palo Alto Software, Marriot Courtyard

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