Years Running








Startup Challenge Monterey Bay

Startup Challenge Monterey Bay is a regional new business competition and acceleration program for entrepreneurs in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.  The Challenge is held annually, organized by a team of community volunteers and hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development of CSU, Monterey Bay. It is a competitive acceleration process that teaches, coaches, mentors, networks, and connects entrepreneurs to the knowledge and resources they need. Prospective entrepreneurs, start-ups and emerging companies showcase and develop their business concepts while competing for prizes. The Challenge provides workshops and mentoring to support the founding, funding and growth of new and innovative businesses in the Monterey Bay region. The Challenge empowers entrepreneurs to communicate their ideas effectively to investors, customers and employees.

Venture, Main Street and Student Divisions

The Challenge offers three divisions – Venture, Main Street, and Student.  The Venture division is for businesses that are intended to scale into large enterprises and that can provide venture-capital level returns to investors; the Main Street division is for small businesses, and the Student division is for students at the graduate, undergraduate, junior college, or high school level.

Venture - $20k Award

Open to businesses intended to scale and provide venture-investor level returns. $5,000 award to two runners-up.

Main Street - $10k Award

Open to small businesses, sole proprietorship, and non-profits.

Student - $1.5k Award

Open to students in high school, community colleges, colleges, and graduate schools.


Workshops, Qualifying Round, Finalists, Showcase, and Resources

The Challenge begins with a set of Introductory Workshops that instruct potential applicants in how the Challenge works, and how to enter.  Entrants complete an online application, and are eligible to attend one or more Creating a Winning Pitch workshops offered by the Challenge to help them prepare their pitches.  Entrants then compete in the Qualifying Round, presenting a five-minute pitch to a panel of judges who also provide constructive advice to the entrants. Finalists in each division are selected from the Qualifying Round, who then are assigned volunteer mentors and attend an In It to Win It workshop in preparation for competing in the Final Round pitches.

March 13, 2017

Application Deadline

Last day to submit your online application to compete in the 2017 Startup Challenge competition!

April 8, 2017

Qualifying Round

5 minute business pitch to a panel of judges. Finalists will be selected that day for the Final Round.

May 12, 2017

Final Round

10 minute business pitch to a panel of judges. Student and Main Street winner announced. Top 3 Venture Finalists selected to compete in the afternoon Otter Tank.

May 12, 2017

Venture Showcase

Open to the public. Finalist Exhibit Hall. Otter Tank Competition. Award Presentation. Reception.


Venture Showcase and Otter Tank

The Challenge culminates in the Venture Showcase, a community celebration of entrepreneurship in the region.  The Venture Showcase features exhibits by finalists, past winners and sponsors; a keynote speaker; the Otter Tank competition to crown the Venture Division winner for the Challenge; and an awards ceremony.



Over its seven years to date, over 370 businesses have entered the Challenge.  In 2016, a record 81 businesses entered the Challenge, and 26 advanced to the Final Round.  All of the seven previous winners of the Venture division are still active businesses, and they have raised more than $2,500,000 in funding.  Two of the previous winners, Yoderm (2012) and HeavyConnect (2016), have been accepted into 500 Startups, a world-renowned Silicon Valley accelerator.  Main Street winners who have gone on to launch successful businesses include Katie’s Cold Press in Watsonville, Luma Yoga in Santa Cruz, New Bohemian Beer in Santa Cruz, Open Ground Studios in Seaside, and the Carmel Honey Company in Carmel.