UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Carolina Challenge

Teams vie for "pitch cash" in a creative networking exercise with local entrepreneurs and industry professionals

A passionate startup community

Established in 2005, the Carolina Challenge has become one of the most dynamic and exciting hallmarks of the UNC entrepreneurship ecosystem. As UNC’s flagship new venture competition, the Carolina Challenge gives students, staff, faculty, and alumni the chance to win seed funding for their early-stage idea.

Approximately $50K in total prize money is distributed amongst the most promising ventures each year, with a top prize of $15K. Perhaps most alluring about the Carolina Challenge, however, is that it welcomes such a diverse population of aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout the University community. Individuals from 30 different disciplines across campus participated in the 2012 competition.

More than a competition

The Carolina Challenge is much more than a business plan competition. A robust series of networking events and educational workshops held throughout the academic year provide aspiring entrepreneurs with hands-on experience in evaluating and communicating their venture ideas. 

Also, venture pitch events such as IdeaHatch and Pitch Party are catalysts for dynamic interactions between students and seasoned entrepreneurs eager to offer their mentorship. In fact, nearly 200 entrepreneurs, industry experts and alumni generously donate their time and energies to the Challenge program each year. This vibrant and extensive support network is one of the Carolina Challenge’s greatest strengths.  

Scott Bissinger (BSBA ’12) of Everyday Glucose celebrates winning $10K in the Carolina Challenge
Scott Bissinger (BSBA ’12) of Everyday Glucose celebrates winning $10K with supporter Danvers Fleury (MBA ’08) of Pruvop

How it works

The Carolina Challenge is segmented into several tracks to help match teams with judges who have the relevant expertise to evaluate each opportunity. The competition itself is characterized by several distinct stages (or rounds) of increasing difficulty in terms of competitiveness and required preparation.

In the initial Elevator Pitch Round, teams deliver a brief venture pitch and answer several minutes of questions from a panel of judges. Teams who advance to the Semifinals must write and submit a business plan as part of their required deliverables.

In the spirit of building a more open and instructive competition experience, teams are given the opportunity to observe the pitches of other teams in their assigned room.  After the pitches and Q&A sessions have concluded, judges and teams engage in an interactive Round Robin feedback session. The Round Robin provides teams with the opportunity to receive individualized advice from the judges as well as follow up on specific questions or concerns. This format has proven successful in part because it eradicates previous realities of venture competitions as predominantly transactional experiences and transforms them into valuable learning experiences.

Visit the Carolina Challenge website