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A recent event by Times of Entrepreneurship explored the future of universities and entrepreneurship.

Competitions at George Washington University, Rice University and University of Notre Dame led the 2021 Top 20 U.S. University Entrepreneurship Competitions list this year, Times of Entrepreneurship revealed last week.

Find the full list here: Top 20 U.S. University Entrepreneurship Competitions, 2021

George Washington’s GW New Venture Competition was the largest in the country, with $160,000 of cash prizes, $396,404 of in-kind prizes and 466 participants.

The second is the Rice Business Plan Competition at Rice University, which had $129,500 of cash prizes, $150,500 of in-kind prizes and 864 participants. Third was the McCloskey New Venture Competition at the University of Notre Dame, which had $163,000 of cash prizes, 120,000 of in-kind prizes and 357 participants. 

The list ranged to #20 – which was the Tulane Business Model Competition at Tulane University with $125,000 in prizes and 265 participants. 

RELATED: Changemakers: Meet The Young Entrepreneurs Tackling New Orleans’ Glass Problem

Times of Entrepreneurship announced the full list last week at its inaugural event, Challenges Met, Opportunities Ahead. The virtual event offered more than a dozen panels, exercises and networking sessions.

Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Block (formerly Square) and chairman of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, spoke about the process of invention and his book, The Innovation Stack.

The book dives into the process of invention at companies including Square, Southwest Airlines Ikea and the Bank of Italy. To solve the “perfect problem” (which is one that keeps you personally motivativated), McKelvey writes that you must come up with an interlocking set of solutions to problems. It’s a process he wrote about after realizing no one really had defined the process before. Understanding it can help others understand the messy process of entrepreneurship – and also could help entrepreneurs stay motivated as they experience the discomfort of operating in chaos. 

“I can’t draw a map of what somebody’s entrepreneurship journey is going to look like, but here are what other maps look like, and here is what the process looks like, and here is what it feels like,” he said. “Because a lot of people think they’re not qualified to do the things that they are in fact qualified to do.”

The event also highlighted the gains and pains made during the pandemic. One social entrepreneur, Joseph Nkandu, shared that revenue at his organization,NuCafe – which supports local farmers in Uganda – had declined 60%. He lauded the support NuCafe received from Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, also a sponsor of the event.

Top University Entrepreneurship Competitions

The list was revealed on Friday as it was simultaneously published on, followed by several panels of university entrepreneurship program professionals who shared insights about competitions and about their programs, including the question of whether universities should focus on education or venture-building.

The list was compiled by an independent researcher, and produced by Times of Entrepreneurship. It was conceived of in 2019 by Scott Stein, former director of the George Washington University Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The rankings were based on the competition’s cash awards, in-kind prizes and number of participants. University programs that participated in a virtual survey were eligible for consideration; 38 competitions submitted information this year.

Speakers at the overall event included Stacey Vanek Smith, the co-host of NPR’s The Indicator From Planet Money; Brigit Helms, the director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and Dina Sherif, the director of the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship They shared insights about social entrepreneurship, eco-depression among this generation of young entrepreneurs and fundraising, among other topics. Elizabeth MacBride and Seth Levine spoke about their book about the next generation of entrepreneurs, The New BuildersThe event was sponsored by startup engagement platform YouNoodle, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Santa Clara University and FoundersCard.

Power of Social Entrepreneurship and ClimateTech

A common theme among the panel discussions was the power of social entrepreneurship, despite a business culture in the U.S. that prioritizes profits and empires. Jacqueline Amable, the managing director of venture at For Climate Tech, shared insights from her first go at entrepreneurship when she was a student, which was inspired by wanting to create a solution to keep young women safe after her sister was assaulted multiple times before she was 17. She’s always been persistent on solving social problems, she said. “We got rocketships to the moon and you’re telling me I can’t build systems that protect my family?” she said.

Businesses across every sector must be thinking about climate, said Marilyn Waite, who leads climate and clean energy finance at the Hewlett Foundation. Within the university community, entrepreneurship programs must work to bridge the natural silos of their universities to attract more students interested in sustainability solutions to entrepreneurship, said Lauren Brohawn, the associate director of The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington. 

RELATED: Eco-Depression is on the Rise. Here’s How University Students are Coping

How to Ask for Funding

On Day 2, Laura Fredricks, a coach and author of The Ask, shared her step-by-step advice for asking someone for funding. The steps included:

  1. Know exactly what you want, down to the numbers and dates
  2. Prepare for the conversation: How will they respond? How will you reply? Fredricks suggests writing out 15 responses and how you’ll answer beforehand.
  3. Deliver your ask with confidence. Wear blue for energy.
  4. Never assume what their response means. If they are vague and say they have to think about it or have to get back to you, ask them to share why. “If you’re not on the same runway, you will never get an answer,” she said. 
  5. End each meeting with a next step. Set a date, too.

She shared the advice during a panel on student funding, which highlighted innovative funds Dorm Room Fund, a group working to fund student entrepreneurs, Peachtree Minority Venture Fund, an Emory University-based fund that’s investing in underrepresented founders and teaching students the fundamentals of funding diverse founders, and the Everyday Entrepreneurship Venture Fund, which is providing grants to community college entrepreneurs. 

READ MORE: The Future of Venture Capital May Emerge From Universities

Barriers for Women

On the final day of the event, Vanek Smith, Sherif and Times of E founder Elizabeth MacBride discussed the barriers women face in the workplace. They often find themselves in a Catch 22 – there’s no winning.

Women often take an amplification approach when sexism occurs – other women and people in their group standing up when an idea is stolen or credit is neglected. But it’s likely going to take men calling out other men in order to make real ripples, the women agreed – because in many cases men can only be shamed by other men.

But it’s difficult – difficult to ask and also sometimes difficult to convince. “It’s hard to reject a power structure that’s benefitting you,” Vanek Smith said.

Men – mostly white men – often build strong circles with other men – they recommend them for jobs, stand up for them and help them when they make mistakes. Yet, a male ally is often the only recourse when a man needs to be called out for treating a woman badly.

“Only men can shame men,” said Sherif, who also offered the example of how, as a CEO with male co-founders, she often found herself ignored at meetings until her male co-founders deferred to her. Men are presumed to have power, she said. Even when women aim to seize it, they run into deep cultural barriers – both from men, who often forget favors and hold women to higher standards,  and other women, who don’t have the same power networks.

All panels and discussions will be available on Times of E’s website for on demand viewing soon.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and