the largest pitch competition in the midwest

The InnoVenture Challenge is an annual pitch competition produced by InnoVenture Iowa and BioConnect Iowa. This event features the region’s only $100,000 grand prize, awarded to one early-stage Iowa startup company building in the industries of bioscience, advanced manufacturing or information technology. Each year, three (3) finalists are chosen from hundreds of hopeful applicants to compete on-stage for the cash prize. This year’s the event was held in Des Moines’ East Village on Wednesday, December 6th, 2023. 

Want to prepare to enter the competition in 2024?

2023 Winner

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The Process


Your application will be reviewed and scored according to an objective set of criteria, which you can find in the FAQs below, by at least two judges. The average composite score of these individual evaluations will be used to determine the company’s eligibility to move forward into the next round of the competition. Ten (10) semi-finalists will be asked to move forward into the PREPARE stage of the competition.


Our top ten (10) semi-finalists will be invited to participate in an interview with our selection committee the week before we announce the three (3) finalists who will be pitching on-stage at the InnoVenture Challenge.


Finalists will be matched with an InnoVenture mentor to help them get ready for the pitch competition at the final event. These mentors have been trained to support our finalists in crafting and polishing their pitch deck.


Our three finalists will pitch to a panel of judges and an audience at the live event in Des Moines, Iowa. The InnoVenture Challenge is free and open to the public. Startups will each get five minutes on-stage to present, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A from the panel of judges.

looking for:

  • Does the business have a clear value proposition?
  • Can the founder(s) clearly demonstrate the problem their business solves?
  • Can this company scale? Is there an ambitious plan for growth?
  • Does this business have the ability to create social impact?


  • A chance to receive a $100,000 award from InnoVenture Iowa.
  • Access to mentors and advisors from the startup community in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • The opportunity to pitch your business at the InnoVenture Challenge pitch competition.
  • Potential partnership opportunities with corporate leaders in agtech, advanced manufacturing, insuretech, fintech, venture capital and beyond.


Any early-stage startup company that meets the criteria below is eligible to apply for the InnoVenture Challenge:

  1. The startup must be based in Iowa, and/or have “significant operations” in Iowa.
  2. The startup is early-stage.
  3. The startup has not received prior funding from InnoVenture Iowa, nor has the startup been a previous winner of the InnoVenture Challenge.

The startup is early-stage if it meets any or all of the following criteria:

Company can demonstrate a proof of concept

Company has a functional prototype

Company has some/any top-line revenue (e.g. paying customers).

Company has active free users or beta testers.

Company has an established strategic partnerships for launch.

Company has a well-defined go-to-market strategy.

If you’re unsure if your company is a fit for this competition, please email us at to verify eligibility before submitting an application.

You may submit as many companies as you would like.

One winner will be selected to receive a $100,000 award.

You will be notified of your application status, even if you are not selected to move forward to the interview stage of the competition, or as a finalist to pitch on-stage. If we feel our feedback can be helpful to you in further honing or improving your business plan, we may tell you why you were not selected. 

We welcome applicants from across Iowa covering a number of industries, but we are not looking for long-standing organizations or mid- to late-stage startup companies seeking new funding. Preference will be given to innovative projects.

Our screening process will include a detailed evaluation of each application with a core focus on three key areas: feasibility, understanding of the underlying problem the applicant seeks to fix, and innovation.

Startups that move forward into the semi-finalist round will present to a panel of judges who will be looking for a clear articulation of the problem that is being solved and a demonstrated commitment to innovation.

Pitches will be technically evaluated according to the following categories:

  • Degree of overall innovation
  • Capacity, experience and potential of the individual and team
  • Demonstrated feasibility of business model and approach
  • Time to scalable growth
  • Resiliency and grit of the founding members
  • Understanding of core obstacles and risks
  • Funding model and sustainability plan
  • Degree of personal commitment