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Dempsey Startup Competition

Thanks to a generous gift from UW alumni Neal Dempsey, the Business Plan Competition is now the Dempsey Startup Competition!

The Dempsey Startup Competition (Dempsey Startup), organized by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, provides a real-world experience for student entrepreneurs, promoting student ideas and new venture creation to the entrepreneurial community. Participating in the Dempsey Startup gives students practice in the dynamics of venture creation by developing an idea, putting together a founding team, writing a business plan, and presenting to investors. In fact, many ideas that started as a class project turned into a start-up company through the competition process! The Dempsey Startup is open to undergrads and grad students at accredited colleges and universities across the Cascadia Corridor – Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.

  • 22 years of the Business Plan Competition/Dempsey Startup
  • $1.54 million in prize money awarded to 167 student companies
  • 5,190 student participants
  • 1,648 teams have entered since 1998
  • 400+ entrepreneurs and investors who took part in the 2019 competition as judges, advisers, and mentors

2019 Awards and Honors

HRG Infrastructure Monitoring from the University of Victoria won the $25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation prize with an innovative way to detect damage in civil structures.Read more about 2019 winners

Adventure Game Works from Gonzaga University won the $10,000 BECU Second Place PrizeRead more about 2019 winners

Bottomline from University of Washington won the $7,500 Friends of the Dempsey Startup Third Place PrizeRead more about 2019 winners

AeroSpec from University of Washington won the $5,000 Fenwick & West Fourth Place PrizeRead more about 2019 winners


Applications for the 2020 Dempsey Startup Competition are due by 11:59pm on Monday, April 6. The competition begins with the initial online Screening Round between April 9-12, 2020.

There are four competitive elimination rounds (and one non-competitive round) between April 6 and May 21, 2020. The Buerk Center hosts office hours with mentors, workshops, and information sessions throughout the competition to help participating student teams prepare for each round!

Dempsey Startup Competition Event Schedule 2020

Additional Competition Rounds + Deliverables for Teams Advancing Past Screening Round

Event Date
Dempsey Startup Registration Opens Monday, March 16
DEADLINE TO ENTER: Submit 5-7 page Business Summary
(see Preparation tab below for examples of past submissions)
Monday, April 6
by 11:59 pm
Screening Round (Closed, Online Session—Judges Only) April 9–12
Announcement of the 36 teams advancing to the live Investment Round
Teams will be notified by email after 12:00 pm.
Monday, April 13
Investment Round (top 36)
Deliverable: 1-page executive summary due 4/23.
Tradeshow-style event. Announcement of the 16 teams advancing to
the Sweet 16 Round at 6:00 pm.
Wednesday, April 29
Coaching Round (top 16)
This is a noncompetitive, but mandatory session.
Deliverable: Draft of PPT pitch deck to review with coaches.
Thursday, May 14
Sweet Sixteen (top 16) and Final Round (top 4)
Deliverable: 15–20 page business plan due Monday, 5/18 at 12pm.
PPT Pitch deck is due the morning of 5/21.
Thursday, May 21
Dinner and Awards Ceremony (all teams from Investment Round, judges, sponsors) Thursday, May 21
6:00–8:30 pm


Teams in the Dempsey Startup Competition must comply with the following criteria to be eligible for the competition.

  • Teams entering the University of Washington’s Dempsey Startup Competition must have at least one full-time or part-time student on the team who is enrolled in a degree seeking program at an accredited college or university in Washington, Oregon, Idaho or British Columbia. If you graduated in Summer quarter of the current academic year or later (e.g., graduated at the end of summer quarter 2018 for the 2019 competition), you are considered a current student in the competition.
  • The business plan must be developed during the student’s tenure at the university. Students working with outside entrepreneurs must create an original business plan.
  • All submissions to the Dempsey Startup Competition must live up to the higher ideals of the University of Washington. Your idea must be appropriate for a university-sponsored event. The Buerk Center reserves the right to disqualify any entry that in its judgment violates the letter or the spirit of the competition or exceeds the bounds of social convention.
  • If the company is revenue positive, the company’s actual annual revenue cannot exceed $500k. Please note this is different than the company’s projected revenue. This rule does not apply to projected revenue.
  • Eligible students can form a team with non-student business community members or alumni, but there are restrictions to this involvement (see below).
  • In the Investment Round, no more than four team members, including both students and non-students, can present the new business concept to the judges. In the Sweet Sixteen and Final Rounds of the competition, only student team members will be allowed to make presentations to the judges.
  • Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  • Only student members of a team may use the Startup Tree and Office Hours resources. Non-student members may not reach out to mentors nor should they attend any Office Hours appointments, even if accompanied by a student. These resources are for students only.
  • Only student team members are eligible to earn prize money. No payments will be made to non-students.

Note: The Director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship reserves the right to make the final determination of the eligibility of submitted business ventures.


The Dempsey Startup Competition considers all submitted business plans as confidential and treats all team matters accordingly. However, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality for proprietary matters.

Therefore, we strongly encourage any team with concerns regarding intellectual property, copyright, or patent confidentiality to either contact their University’s intellectual property office (for University-developed discoveries) or competent legal counsel (for non-University related discoveries). The University of Washington, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, the Foster School of Business, and the organizers of the competition are not responsible for any proprietary information and/or intellectual property included in a submitted business plan.

Ultimately, protection of sensitive materials is the sole responsibility of the individual or team participating in the competition.


Whether you’re preparing to enter a competition or just want to explore the process of starting a startup, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship offers numerous ways to prepare—networking events, special-topic workshops, panel sessions with experts, and more!

Start-Up Resources

The Buerk Center’s start-up resources feature our favorite tips, blogs and resources for writing solid business plans, making a great pitch, securing funding, marketing, and more.

Learn by Example

Take a look at 5-7 page executives summaries submitted in previous years:

To view more business summaries contact Sarah Studer. In order to prepare your own executive summary, use this Submission Checklist, which includes the judging criteria judges will be using in the Screening Round to evaluate all entries.

Judging criteria

The Dempsey Startup Competition is comprised of four competitive rounds (Screening Round, Investment Round, Sweet 16, and Final Round) and one non-competitive Coaching Round, designed to prepare teams for the Sweet 16 and Final Round.

Screening Round

The Screening Round takes place online, and is the first major hurdle for students participating in the Dempsey Startup Competition. Student teams submit their business plan executive summaries online. Over the course of a weekend, each business plan executive summary is read and scored by eight to ten judges who are encouraged to provide written feedback for students. After the Screening Round, an announcement of teams advancing to the Investment Round is sent via email. Please also review the submission checklist.

NOTE: Scoring based on 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), with 3 being of the caliber to advance to the next round

Overall Impression of the Executive Summary

Does the summary adequately describe the idea — does the idea make sense?
Has the team adequately described the pain in the marketplace?
Do you believe the team has presented a feasible solution?
Is the summary well written and succinct?
Does the summary create excitement?

Bonus: Does the team discuss measurable efforts to minimize consumption, use, and byproduct waste, while bolstering profitability/cost containment?

Management team

Does this management team have the skills required to execute the plan?
Does this team have the experience to lead a new venture?

Market opportunity

Have they adequately described the market and economic opportunity?
Have they clearly stated their value proposition? Is it a viable model?

Competitive strategy

Has the team completely analyzed its competitive space?
Does the summary clearly identify the company’s initial competitive advantage or differentiator?
Does the team have an adequate strategy for defending their market position?

Go to market strategy

Is it clear how the company will reach its initial customer?
Does the summary clearly identify a sales strategy?
Is the distribution plan clearly defined and reasonable?


Has the team made progress toward any milestones (licenses, patents, etc…)
Has the company signed customers and/or channel partners?
Has the company booked any revenue?


Are the financials consistent with the overall plan?
Are the assumptions realistic?
Are contingencies and exit strategies addressed?
Does the plan describe the funding/resources required to execute on the plan?

Investment Round

The Investment Round, arguably the most exciting event of the competition, follows a trades show format in which teams set up intricate displays and interact with judges to pitch the team’s idea. The judges, all prominent members of the local entrepreneurial community, are given one thousand “Buerk Center dollars” to invest in a portfolio of teams that they consider the “most viable” – that is, with the best chance for success in the real world. At the end of the event, investment dollars are collected and tallied. The sixteen teams receiving the highest “funding” are announced at a reception immediately following and advance to the next round, the Sweet Sixteen.

We ask the judges to invest their $1,000 “Buerk Center dollars” in a minimum of 5 companies (student teams) and a well-rounded portfolio of companies. We also tell them: when you’re deciding which teams to invest in, ask yourself:

  • Does this business seem well thought out?
  • Has the team demonstrated knowledge of the industry and potential customers?
  • Is there a real opportunity here?
  • Has the team answered your questions?

Coaching Round

The Coaching Round is a noncompetitive round in which no teams are eliminated. This round gives teams the opportunity to practice their presentations in front of a panel of coaches from the local entrepreneurial community. This round is designed to provide teams with in-depth and constructive feedback that they can use to hone their business plans and pitches prior to the Sweet 16 and Final Rounds.

Sweet 16 Round and Final Round

After honing their presentations in the Coaching Round, each of the sixteen remaining teams is assigned to present to one of four panels of judges. Judges select the advancing teams based on the following criteria:

  1. The Team: What are the team dynamics? What is the quality of the team? Does the team demonstrate the ability to execute on its plan? (Student-driven teams are a plus.)
  2. The Market: Does the company’s product or service address the target market’s needs? (Opportunity size is a plus, but not the primary concern)
  3. Viability: Is the business model viable, well-articulated, and reasonable? (The team’s IP position should be clear.)
  4. Presentation: Did the team make a quality presentation? What was the quality of the team’s materials and data? How was the team’s ability to answer tough questions?

Each panel of judges will see four teams’ presentations. After all presentations are finished, judges will discuss the merits of each of their four teams and by process of consensus select one or two teams to go on to the Final Round in the afternoon.

The Final Round is open to viewing by all competition participants, faculty, students, and the public. Each team has 30 minutes to present to and answer questions from a panel of judges (these judges have not seen any teams’ presentations prior to the Final Round.) The judges reach their decisions about team ranking by consensus using the same criteria as the Sweet 16 judges.

The Dempsey Startup Competition would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors. Below are the sponsors of the 2019 Dempsey Startup.

Learn about Dempsey Startup Competition sponsorship opportunities.

2019 Prizes

$25,000 Grand Prize sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation
$10,000 Second Place Prize sponsored by BECU
$7,500 Third Place Prize sponsored by Friends of the Dempsey Startup.
$5,000 Fourth Place Prize sponsored by Fenwick & West

Big Picture Prizes ($5,000)

The Big Picture and Best Idea prizes were created to reward student teams in the Business Plan Competition for their exceptional work in several distinct categories. The teams are selected by a special group of judges during the Investment Round, and the winners are announced at the dinner and awards ceremony in May. Please note that no team can take more than one Big Picture and/or Best Idea prize.

Glympse > Internet of Things (IoT) Prize
Recognizes a business venture that has incorporated new products or services that contribute to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem—devices, vehicles, infrastructure and/or other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity—that enables these objects to collect and exchange data to create new consumer experiences.

MOD Pizza > Social Impact Prize
Recognizes a venture that “not only demonstrates the capacity to deliver financial performance, but also shows how it makes a positive contribution to society.” This contribution can be a strategy that incorporates values into their company to develop and implement solutions to social issues or a product/service that helps develop and implement solutions to these same issues.

2019 Award Winners


Best Idea Prizes for $2,500

eBay > Best Marketplace Idea
Targeted for teams that creates a commerce or payments platform for communities of buyers, sellers or businesses.

Cambia Grove > Best Healthcare Idea
Recognizes a venture that offers new solutions or approaches to address health outcomes and/or improve the quality or efficiency of healthcare delivery.

DLA Piper > Best Idea with Global Reach
A venture that has aspirations for acquiring customers around the world.

Perkins Coie > Best Innovation/Technology Idea
Targeted for a venture that has a new application for a current technology, a disruptive technology, or an idea that represents a substantial improvement in a product or process.

RealSelf > Best Consumer Product Idea
For a venture that offers a compelling new consumer product, focusing on a well-defined market.

Saara Romu Foundation > Community Impact Prize
Recognizes a venture that has a direct impact on the lives of women or other underserved communities, with a preference to a team with female-forward leadership.

Smukowski Family > Best Sustainable Advantage
Recognizes a venture that has incorporated best practices toward resource reduction while bolstering profitability/cost containment.

Voyager Capital > Best Business to Business Idea
Recognizes a venture with an innovative B2B product or platform.

WRF Capital > Best Health/Wellness Impact Prize
Recognizes a venture with significant potential to prevent, diagnose or treat diseases or disorders that impact human health.

2019 Award Winners


Follow-on funding: Jones + Foster Accelerator

Up to $25,000 in follow-on funding is available to student-led start-ups coming out of the Dempsey Startup Competition, the Health Innovation or Environmental Innovation Challenges, or entrepreneurship coursework.

In the Jones + Foster Accelerator, student teams transition to becoming early-stage start-ups. Teams admitted to the program will devote six months to completing a list of milestones with coaching from a committee of mentors. Learn more about the Jones + Foster Accelerator.

In the 21 years that the Buerk Center has produced its annual business plan competition, Dempsey Startup Competition, 4,943 students (1,535 teams) have participated in the spring event. We’ve awarded more than $1.4 million in seed funding to 167 winning teams, many of which have gone on to make us proud. Visit our blog to read more, or you can also view a complete history of competition winners for each year.

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

Can non-business students enter the competition?
Yes. The Dempsey Startup Competition is open to ALL students who are currently enrolled in a degree program in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.

If I don’t find any team members that really seem like “the right fit” during the Networking Nights, is it OK to have a “team” of just one person?
It is OK to have just one person on a team. However, if you advance to the Investment Round, you’ll want to add a few people to your team to help you pitch to judges

Can we submit a business plan into the competition for a business that is or may become a nonprofit / social business in the future?
The competition is open to all types of businesses. Every year there are nonprofit or social-venture businesses in the competition.

Is there a Dempsey Startup archive that has a synopsis of the Dempsey Startup plans submitted so far?
Yes, but you must come to the Buerk Center to look at it. Be sure to call or email the Buerk Center office to set-up a time.

Can a student submit plans for more than one team?
You are allowed to participate in the Dempsey Startup Competition with more than one team. It can be a logistical challenge to do that at the Investment Round and Sweet 16, but it is possible.

Am I allowed to have a faculty member as a mentor for the Dempsey Startup?
You can have a faculty member as a mentor. You can also use Startup Tree to find experts who can help you with your company.

I am part of a company looking to recruit students to assist in taking my idea through the Dempsey Startup Competition. How should I go about doing this?
The Dempsey Startup is a process and competition for student-driven companies, and we have a strict policy guiding outside companies recruiting students to join their team in order to compete:

  • Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  • Only student team members are eligible to earn prize money. No payments will be made to non-students.

Can I compete two years in a row?
Students are welcome and encouraged to participate as many times as they want–as long as they are a student (enrolled in a degree seeking program in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia) or have a student on their team.

Can I change the name of the business at some point during the competition?
You are allowed to change your company name during the competition. We recommend that you reference the name change in your documents (one-page executive summary or business plan).

Can I have more than four members on my team?
You can have as many people on your team as your like; there is no official limit. Most teams are three to five people, but you can do whatever makes the most sense for you. However, only four teammates can pitch at a time during the Investment Round. If you have more than four team members, you can tradeoff.

Is the list of judges for the Dempsey Startup Competition available to the participants?
We don’t release our judge lists for any of the rounds.

Do judges or coaches usually sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements)?
Judges and coaches do not sign NDAs. This is common practice in the entrepreneurial world, especially when you are pitching your idea to investors. You should figure out a way to talk about your business, but not give away the confidential information that could be patented, trademarked, or that is simply your secret sauce.

How many judges are there at each round of the competition?
This depends on the round. Here’s the approximate breakdown

Screening round 8-10 judges will read your plan
Investment round 250 judges
Sweet 16 Closed session with 7 judges
Final round 7 judges and open to the public

Contact Sarah Studer at [email protected] or at 206-616-3742

Read the Dempsey Startup Competition blog

Connect with the Buerk Center