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10 Tips to Help You Win the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge (HSUEC)

If you have an eye for business and are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, it’s best to get started early, in high school itself. One way to do that is by participating in an entrepreneurship challenge, like the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge (HSUEC), the subject of today’s blog. Competitions like HSUEC show colleges that you have initiative, creativity, and the ability to work under pressure. They highlight your problem-solving skills and your ability to bring ideas to life. If you want to understand what HSUEC is all about, how to apply, and most importantly what you can do to win, read on.

What is HSUEC?

The HSUEC is an annual entrepreneurship competition organized by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah. It is the high school counterpart of the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, one of the largest collegiate competitions in the country, and aims to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among high school students across the state of Utah. You will be forming teams to develop business ideas, create prototypes, and pitch your concepts to a panel of judges. The competition provides a platform to learn about business development, marketing, and the pitching process. It offers a unique opportunity to gain practical experience in entrepreneurship, network with peers and professionals, and you could potentially win up to $10,000 in prizes!

Is the competition prestigious?

Yes, the HSUEC is a fairly prestigious competition. For one thing, it is hosted by the University of Utah, ranked  # 5 for entrepreneurship in the West by Princeton Review and # 7 for undergrad entrepreneurship by US News & World Report. While the competition is restricted to Utah residents only, it still attracts hundreds of teams and the competition is intense, with only the most innovative 20 teams making it to the finals. Participating in HSUEC provides deep learning experiences and significant involvement in the entrepreneurial process. Past winners have gone on to launch successful businesses, gain scholarships, and win other business challenges as well.

Who is eligible to participate?

To participate in HSUEC, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a high school student (grades 9-12) aged 14-18 years old.

  • Attend a school in Utah or be a Utah resident if homeschooled. If you’re a resident of another state, you unfortunately do not qualify.

  • Form a team of up to 5 individuals.

How do you apply and participate?

For HSUEC, you need to submit a business idea proposal. This proposal consists of the following four key components:

  1. A 200-word description of the opportunity or problem your business idea will tackle.

  2. A 200-word explanation of your proposed solution, how it addresses the problem or the opportunity, and what improvements it brings to the current situation.

  3. Finally, you will then need to elaborate on your differential offering, who your target consumers are, your presence in the market, etc. The word limit for this is, as you may have guessed, 200 words.

  4. The last part of your proposal consists of your prototype - this may be (but isn’t limited to) an app, a website, machinery, a cardboard cutout, or even a sketch. It doesn’t need to be high-tech, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to effectively demonstrate the novelty, utility, and practicality of your idea and/or the innovations you are implementing to an existing model or solution. In your initial online submission, you should use diagrams and pictures to explain your prototype.

The top 20 submissions, once finalized, will also need to submit the following two presentations:

  1. A 5-minute long powerpoint presentation that you and your team will be using to present to the judges, ideally covering the four proposal components in detail.

  2. A tabling presentation, meant to showcase your business idea to the public during the competition showcase.

While the 2024 iteration of HSUEC is over, its dates and deadlines may be indicative of next year:

  • Application Opens Online: Sept. 18, 2023, noon

  • Online Information Sessions: Nov. 1, Dec. 6, and Jan. 3 at 4-5 pm.

  • Application Deadline: Jan. 16, 2024, 11:59 p.m.

  • Online Judging Starts: Jan. 18, 2024, noon

  • Online Judging Ends: Jan. 31, 2024, 11:59 p.m.

  • Top 20 Finalists Announced: Feb. 1, 2024, 5 p.m.

  • Public Online Voting Starts: Feb. 6, 2024

  • Public Online Voting Ends: March 1, 2024, 11:59 p.m.

  • Competition Final Event: March 2, 2024

Note that there is no application fee to participate in HSUEC!

What are the scoring criteria for HSUEC?

Each submission is weighed against the following:

  • Clarity: How clearly has the problem or opportunity been identified and defined?

  • Innovation and effectiveness: How unique and original is the business idea? Does it effectively meet the opportunity or solve the identified problem?

  • Impact: Is there a clear target audience defined? How widespread is the impact, and how well can it be quantified?

  • Quality of business plan and prototype: Does the prototype thoroughly illustrate the idea? Is the business plan detailed and well-researched?

Theses criteria are applied across three rounds of judging:

  1. The first round is online and based on the application submitted by each team. The top 20 teams identified here are listed as the finalists and move to the next round.

  2. The second round is also an online vote but it is open to the public.

  3. The final round takes place at the final event at the University of Utah campus, and finalists will have 5 minutes to present their proposal to the panel, and another 5 minutes to answer their question. There is also a tabling presentation and voting open to the public for the “People’s Choice Award”.

What do you stand to win at HSUEC?

In the 2023-24 competition season, the following awards were handed out:

  • 1st Place — $10,000

  • 2nd Place — $5,000

  • 3rd Place — $2,500

  • Top Online Vote Award — $500

  • Event Awards for each team chosen as a finalist — $100 to each team

  • Lassonde Founders Program Scholarships — Up to 10 awards, each with a $1,000 Lassonde Studios housing scholarship

Each of these prizes is a straight up cash prize that you may choose to either use to fund your business idea and make it a reality, or put into furthering your education. The choice is yours!

10 tips to help you win

  1. Make sure to address the HSUEC guidelines: Understand exactly what the scoring criteria demand and what judges are specifically looking for. Tailor your business plan to emphasize these points.

  2. Analyze past winning entries: You can view all of the 2024 finalist ideas here. Go through each of them like case studies. Try to identify what sets them apart and adapt those strategies to your project. Pay special attention to their market analysis and innovative approaches.

  3. Try to find a mentor: HSUEC is a fairly competitive challenge, and will be a lot easier for you to win if you’re able to find a mentor who can guide you on the right path and vet your project idea. This may be a business professional, a teacher or a professor, or even a parent who has had experience with entrepreneurship. The real-world viewpoint they bring can greatly enhance the viability of your proposal.

  4. Validate your idea with real data: Conduct surveys, focus groups, or interviews to gather real data that supports your business idea. Judges will appreciate both your evidence-based proposal as well as the additional effort you put into securing it.

  5. Try to develop a high-fidelity prototype: Seeing is believing. If it’s feasible and doable, try to go beyond basic prototypes. Use resources like 3D printing, app development platforms, or any other technology to create a polished prototype that clearly demonstrates your product's functionality.

  6. Create a detailed financial model: Develop a comprehensive financial plan including projected revenues, expenses, and break-even analysis. Use graphs and charts to present this data clearly and concisely. At the end of the day, you’re submitting a business pitch, and it is important to clearly demonstrate how your business intends to make money.

  7. Refine your elevator pitch: Craft a compelling elevator pitch that you can deliver in under a minute. This should highlight the problem, your solution, and its market potential. Practice delivering it confidently and concisely.

  8. Create a visually engaging presentation: Use high-quality visual aids such as infographics, charts, and videos in your pitch presentation. Visuals can help convey complex information more effectively.

  9. Be prepared for the Q&A sessions: Anticipate potential questions from the judges and prepare thoughtful, concise answers. Hold mock Q&A sessions with teachers or mentors to practice.

  10. Network with other teams: Engage with other participants to share ideas and feedback. This can provide new perspectives and improve your project. Networking can also open up opportunities for future collaborations.

Participating in HSUEC can be a transformative experience, providing you with valuable skills and opportunities. Follow these tips, stay focused, and give it your best shot. Good luck!

If you’re looking for an incubator program that helps you establish a developed startup in high school, consider the Young Founders Lab! 

The Young Founders Lab is a real-world start-up bootcamp founded and run by Harvard entrepreneurs. In this program, you will work towards building a revenue-generating start-up that addresses a real-world problem. You will also have the opportunity to be mentored by established entrepreneurs and professionals from Google, Microsoft, and X. 

You can access the application link here!

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: HSUEC logo



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