Innovation Challenge

Innovating Diversity & Inclusion

We are looking for the next great idea on how to innovate the way we increase, promote, and improve diversity and inclusion, and we’re bringing in a panel of accomplished venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to help us do it. Individuals or teams of up to five (5) will compete through multiple rounds of judging to showcase their product/service, culminating in an on-stage round during the 2018 Ascend National Convention.

In today’s world, inclusion is a hot topic being discussed across all industries and levels. In conjunction with other non-profit partners, the Ascend Foundation has published numerous papers on the topic of inclusion which can be found here. These publications may serve as a starting point or inspiration.

Contestants will participate up to three rounds of judging:

  1. Qualifier Written Pitch: written application and pitch deck
  2. Semi-final Video Pitch: live 15-minute oral presentation via video conferencing
  3. Final Pitch: live 15-minute oral presentation at Ascend National Convention 2018

Submit your innovation today for a chance to pitch your idea and win a $10,000 cash prize!

Deadline for submission is Friday, May 25, 2018 at 11:59PM Pacific Time.


To be eligible for the Innovation Challenge, teams must meet the following eligibility criteria:

    1. Team Composition
    Teams may be comprised of a minimum of one (1) and no more than five (5) team members. Team member(s) may be college students or working professionals from any industry or background, and can be located anywhere in the United States. Team members must stay consistent throughout the Innovation Challenge – no alternates or substitutions are allowed

    2. Ascend Membership
    At time of first-round submission, at least one (1) team member must be a registered and paid member of Ascend. For teams that advance to the final round, ALL team members must be registered and paid members of Ascend.

    3. Availability for Final Round
    Teams that advance to the final round must have at least one (1) team member attend the mandatory pre-competition virtual prep session hosted 1-2 weeks prior to the final round. Team member(s) who attend are responsible for disseminating information from this session to fellow team members. In addition, teams that advance to the final round must be available to attend the final round competition in-person at the 2018 Ascend National Convention on August 20-22, 2018 in San Francisco.

Judging Criteria

The Innovation Challenge is intended to simulate the real-world process of entrepreneurs soliciting funding and support. Judges are venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and Ascend leaders who will function as early-stage investors deciding on which innovation idea they would most likely fund.

Criteria such as value, opportunity, competitive advantage, viability, management team, and financial requirements, along with the clarity and persuasiveness of the presentation, all influence the judges’ decisions. Additional detail around criteria considerations include:

    Value Created by the Product or Service
  • What is the new and unique value of product/service?
  • Is there a clear customer need satisfied?
  • How important is this product/service to customers and other stakeholders?
  • Is there a prototype or working description of the product/service?
  • Does the product/service clearly address the topic of inclusion?
    Attractiveness of the Market Opportunity
  • How large is the market and how fast is it growing?
  • Can you be a “significant player” in this market? Is there a clear market entry strategy?
  • Can the product/service be successfully monetized? Is the product/service scalable?
  • Is the business model both realistic and viable?
    Competitive Advantage
  • What is the positioning of the product/service in relation to competitors?
  • Can this product/service be a leader in its market?
  • Are barriers to entry identified?
  • How long will it take you to get to market?
    Competitive Advantage
  • What is the positioning of the product/service in relation to competitors?
  • Can this product/service be a leader in its market?
  • Are barriers to entry identified?
  • How long will it take you to get to market?
    Operational and Technological Viability
  • How will the product or service be produced and delivered to customers?
  • What are the distribution channels?
  • Is any intellectual property essential to success? How will rights to the intellectual property be secured?
  • Are there regulatory hurdles?
    Capability of Management Team
  • What roles will the current team play?
  • How will gaps in the management team be filled?
  • Have the team members identified key risks and how will they be mitigated?
    Capital Requirements and Financial Forecast
  • What type and amount of capital investment is required?
  • Is the investment required all at once or can it be staged?
  • Is any intellectual property essential to success?


  1. Ascend will use your Team Leader’s email address for all follow-up correspondence. Please add to your contacts to avoid messages going to spam.
  2. Please save a draft of your written application until you are ready to submit for final consideration. Use your login credentials to return to your draft. Only submit one application per team.
  3. As part of the application, a pitch deck detailing your idea is required. The pitch deck should be in PDF format and should provide all of the information needed for the first round of judging. Please refer to the judging criteria to understand how the pitch deck will be evaluated. Any additional materials, such as a demo video, are encouraged but optional.
  4. Please do not submit your application until it is 100% completed. Once you submit your application, you will not be able to make changes and/or updates to your application.
  5. Due to the high volume of applications, we are unable to provide feedback on individual submissions that do not make it to the second round.
  6. All application materials will be kept private and confidential by the Innovation Challenge selection committee.
  7. You will receive a confirmation email once you submit your application.

Apply Today