Startup Challenge Rules + FAQs

How do I know if my idea fits the Challenge?

We encourage entrepreneurs from all over the world, including students, to enter the Food+City Startup Challenge.

What is the goal of the Challenge?

  • The goal of the program, via mentorship and the competition, is to reward innovation within food systems to improve how we feed cities.
  • Entries must include a process, product, service or technology that solves a problem within the “to” of Farm to Table.
  • Benefits realized from your endeavor may include:
    • reduced food waste
    • lowered carbon footprint
    • safer food
    • less food fraud
    • extended shelf life
    • increased traceability
    • simplified last mile
    • improved efficiencies
    • minimized expenses
    • increase food security

For example, some of the business ideas that interest us include:

  • Food distribution technology that enables food to travel in a safer, more efficient way
  • Data systems or products that increase visibility throughout the supply chain
  • Systems that decreases waste by getting more food into and through the supply chain
  • Packaging materials that extend shelf life
  • Energy-saving tools that lower carbon footprint
  • Services that optimize resources within the last mile

How is an early stage or seed company defined?

We consider a company to be a seed or early-stage startup if it is:

  • No more than five years old.
  • Not a publicly traded company.
  • Offering a product or service that is commercially viable.
  • Not a farmer’s market or co-op. These are non-profits and we are focusing on for-profit companies.
  • Not a food trailer or restaurant.

You may still submit your idea if you do not exactly fit into the above guidelines, but a special judging panel will review your submission to determine eligibility.

What if I’m a Student?

Our Student Prize is a dedicated category of the Startup Challenge. Students with ideas are encouraged to apply, as resources and mentorship will be provided to help with potential company formation, problem discovery, market validation and next steps. Just make sure to answer yes to the “Are you a student and/or enrolled in a college or university?” question in the application form to participate in the Student Prize category.

What if I haven’t yet formed a company?

As above, we encourage anyone with new ideas and the entrepreneurial spirit to apply to the Startup Challenge. Tools and mentorship will be provided in the program to assist with potential company formation, problem discovery, market validation and additional steps to help make your idea a reality.

How many teammates can I have on my team?

There is no limit to the number of participants on your team. However, we would caution against creating a large team (5+) as it may make entry coordination, communication and travel more difficult. (We do not offer travel expenses to our Showcase events.)

Does the contest cost money to enter or participate?

The early bird registration fee to apply is $35 and ends at midnight on Friday, October 19, 2018 — the entry fee is $50 thereafter. For planning purposes, we ask that finalists be prepared to travel to Austin, Texas, to participate in our Showcase events on March 10 & 11, 2019, during South by Southwest (SXSW). Finalists are responsible for covering all costs associated with travel and lodging, and we will ask for confirmation of travel.

What are the benefits of participation?

  • Pitch your company and gain exposure at the Food+City Startup Showcase, held during the largest technology conference in the world, South by Southwest (SXSW)
  • In addition to qualifying for prizes, finalists will have unparalleled opportunities to network with judges, mentors, investors, corporate partners, other finalists and the food innovation community at large.
  • You’ll receive feedback and support from talented and experienced mentors.
  • Your idea will be reviewed by judges and investors from a broad range of organizations.
  • You will receive ongoing promotion and visibility through Food+City’s social media platforms.
  • You will become a part of the Food+City family, which offers ongoing benefits.

Can I submit an idea that is not mine?

Founders of the applying startup must retain some portion of ownership in the company for the team to be eligible to participate.

What are the age and educational requirements to enter?

You can be of any age, from any country or with any educational status to enter.

Can finalists from prior years enter?

Yes, previous finalists can enter as long as they have not won a cash prize in a previous Food Lab or Food+City competition.

Do I have to attend the Showcase events to fully participate?

Yes. Each finalist must be represented by individuals who are in attendance at check-in time at the Showcase.

Other requirements?

  • Submissions must be in English.
  • Startups do not need to originate or be based in Texas. They can be from anywhere in the world.
  • Finalists must sign photo/video release to allow Food+City to use footage from the Food+City Startup Challenge in marketing materials to promote and support the organization.

Can I enter multiple ideas in the contest?

Yes, although we believe that entrepreneurs who are focused on a single entry will have more success in the competition.

Does my innovation have to be unique, completely novel, or entirely new?

Your concept does not need to be new to the world. Many of the world’s greatest innovations are subtle changes to existing techniques or technology that enable vast improvements in usability, access, distribution or control to an existing process or product. We ask only that your startup provide innovation in the food supply chain.

When will finalists be announced?

We will announce the finalists on December 3, 2018. We will also pair each finalist team with an appropriate lead mentor by December 17, 2018.

When can I submit my idea?

Submissions are accepted beginning September 17, 2018. You must submit your idea by the final deadline on November 16.

Do I need to produce a presentation in case I am chosen?

The finalists will have a Pitch Review — an opportunity to practice their pitches to the advisors. During the Showcase, all finalists will pitch to the judges and audience, and have the chance to interact directly with judges and audience during an expo style walk-around.

How do I apply?

Applications are collected via and must be received between September 17, 2018, and November 16, 2018. This entry includes a 200-word summary of the business plan. There will be no need to submit a full business plan. Video and other attachments may be included.

What is the deadline to submit?

Applications must be received by midnight CST on November 16, 2018. Finalist teams will be notified of their application status on Monday, December 3, 2018.

What if I am chosen as a finalist?

  • Finalist teams will be paired with a lead mentor and invited to present and compete in Austin on March 10-11 during SXSWeek 2019. All teams will present a verbal narrative presentation, prototype, video or other visual representation suitable for your business model.
  • A three-minute pitch, with a pitch deck, will be presented in the final round.

How does the mentorship work?

  • Finalist teams will be introduced to their lead mentors by email on or by December 17, 2018.
  • Finalists should contact their mentors to set up the first in-person (or Skype) meeting as soon as possible.
  • Finalists must communicate with their mentors at least once per week during the mentorship timeframe, December 17, 2018 – March 2019.
  • Mentors and finalists will work together to prepare presentations for the Showcase.
  • Many of our mentors and finalists choose to continue their relationship after the competition is complete.

The deadline for the 2019 Startup Challenge has now passed. Please contact for late application requests and information on our next program.